England powerhouses want time to shine vs New Zealand in win-or-bust T20 World Cup showdown


The 2019 World Cup final, the match that will forever define cricketing relations between England and New Zealand, came at the end of a six-week slog.

Before the game that lasted a lifetime came a round-robin group stage that seemed to stretch on for eternity, a 45-match traipse around the country that began in the last throes of spring and, despite inclement weather and several upsets, gave the cream ample space to rise by the time the tournament's two best sides met at Lord's on July 14.

The path to tomorrow's clash at The Gabba has been far shorter — much shorter, in fact, than England would have liked after a fair chunk of theirs was waterlogged by La Nina — but the equation is just as simple: for Jos Buttler's side, it is win or bust.

That the weather, in Melbourne in particular, has played such a significant part is not ideal but this World Cup's ruthless format has delivered the jeopardy that is a vital characteristic of tournament sport compared to (franchise) leagues, giving consequence to upsets that last beyond the odd bloodied nose.

Of England’s powerhouse top seven, the supposed envy of world cricket, only Dawid Malan has faced more than 30 deliveries.

England are feeling it, with a win, a rain-affected loss and a washout to show for three group games so far, and now almost certainly just one defeat away from being knocked out of a World Cup they have barely had time to get into. Buttler, the skipper and arguably the best white-ball batter on the planet, has so far faced only 20 balls at a tournament he will have hoped to make his own, Alex Hales, looking to make amends for missing 2019, only 25 and Ben Stokes, at his first T20 World Cup since the heartbreak of 2016, just 12.

In fact, of England's powerhouse top seven, the supposed envy of world cricket, only Dawid Malan has faced more than 30 deliveries — which, against Ireland, was part of the problem.

Each of them know, however, that it only takes one showpiece knock to turn the tide, the kind Daryl Mitchell produced to decide the semi-final between the sides in the UAE 12 months ago, or the 104 from Glenn Phillips as the Black Caps beat Sri Lanka this weekend (incidentally, twice as many as Buttler, Hales and Stokes have managed between them).

England’s Jos Buttler and Australia’s Aaron Finch at the washout. (PA)
England’s Jos Buttler and Australia’s Aaron Finch at the washout. (PA)

The onus will be on England's top four, in particular, to not only get through the familiar new-ball storm from Trent Boult (below) and Tim Southee (New Zealand have had their opponents three-down inside the powerplay in each of their games) but to do so with a level of aggression befitting of a batting line-up expected to again card Chris Woakes at No9. Net-run-rate may still have a significant part to play in all this, too.

England's bowlers, at least spared a tight, 48-hour turnaround by the Melbourne rain, will need similar early inroads to hide their well-documented weakness at the death. They managed just that against Ireland and Afghanistan, lining at the tail by the business end of the innings, but have the painful memories of Mitchell and Jimmy Neesham in Abu Dhabi as reminders of the other side of the coin.

To win this tournament, England will almost certainly have to win four matches on the spin, a daunting task in any environment given T20 cricket's innate unpredictability, never mind at a World Cup.

For now, though, Buttler's men can do little more than focus on Brisbane and the Black Caps again.