England head to Cardiff tomorrow knowing that a win will seal a place in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.
Following their win over Bangladesh and New Zealand’s wash-out against Australia, a victory against either New Zealand or Australia on Saturday will see them progress to the knockout stages.
They will want to get the job done tomorrow against the Kiwis, however, to avoid a ‘winner takes all’ match against the Aussies at the weekend.
New Zealand have not been touted as potential winners, yet they have a strong, well-balanced side. Kane Williamson has established himself as one of the best batsmen in the world, and his hundred against Australia was a reminder of just that. Luke Ronchi is a destructive force at the top of the order while both Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor possess all the ingredients themselves.
Mind you, a side with that top four has the ability to beat any team in the world – and that’s not it. In Mitchell Santner, New Zealand have a great spin option whilst Trent Boult and Tim Southee can do damage with the new ball. Write this team off at your own peril.
England should have the slight edge
Eoin Morgan’s side have the benefit of home conditions and have emerged in the last year as one of the best ODI sides in the world, maybe the best. However, there are a few causes for concern. There is the form of Jason Roy – for so long a part of a fantastic opening partnership with Alex Hales.
Four single figure scores in his last four ODIs is a worrying statistic, not to forget his early dismissal exposes Joe Root to the new ball, the scope for the sort of collapse seen recently against South Africa. Jonny Bairstow waits in the wings, but will England dare to change a formula that has brought them success in the past?
One change England will be forced to make regards Chris Woakes, who has been ruled out of the Champions Trophy with a side strain. Woakes has quickly become England’s leading seamer, and fresh from a stint in the IPL, he looked set for a successful tournament. You’ve got to feel for the Warwickshire cricketer.
Steven Finn has been called into the squad as a replacement but possesses neither the control with the ball nor the talent with the bat that Woakes does. A wicket-taking bowler without a doubt, his selection would still be a risk. England will more likely turn to David Willey or Adil Rashid, maybe both if Jake Ball is dropped.
Question marks also remain over the fitness of Ben Stokes, who did not bowl his full quota of overs in the win over Bangladesh. Stokes and Woakes are the heart of this England side and lengthen the batting order considerably. Without them, England are not the same team.
All in all, England should still have enough to win; but if they’re are not absolutely at their best, New Zealand will make them pay. Let’s just hope the weather holds.