LONDON: England captain Eoin Morgan paid tribute to former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum ahead of his side’s World Cup final against the Black Caps at Lord’s on Sunday.
Four years ago, a New Zealand side led by McCullum shot out England for just 123 in a World Cup group match and then overhauled that total in a mere 12.2 overs, leaving Morgan feeling as ‘close to rock bottom as I’ve been’.
New Zealand went on to finish runners-up to co-hosts Australia while England crashed out in the pool round.
McCullum has since retired from international duty and now Morgan finds himself leading England against New Zealand in the World Cup final.
Morgan has long acknowledged England’s debt to New Zealand for their One-day International revival and, speaking to reporters at Lord’s on Saturday, he had warm words for McCullum.
“We are close mates and he’s taught me a lot about leadership,” he said. “I think in 2015 the way that New Zealand played, they proved to everybody that you can perform at the highest level and get to the top by being yourselves and not trying to be somebody else, or a different team.”
England, like New Zealand, have never won the World Cup, with the last of their three losing appearances in the final back in 1992.
“It means a huge amount to me and to everybody in the changing room,” said Morgan when asked about the magnitude of Sunday’s match. “It’s the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication, a lot of planning.”
England played close to the perfect game in defeating holders Australia in a lopsided semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Asked if they would need to hit similar heights against a New Zealand team who upset the odds to beat India by 18 runs in their last-four clash, Morgan replied: “I think we will — New Zealand were the best team in the league stage.”
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has been in superb form with the bat during the tournament, scoring 548 runs at 91.33. But he was unluckily run out for just 27 against England when bowler Mark Wood deflected a drive on to the stumps at the non-striker’s end.
Morgan, asked if star batsman Williamson had a weakness, replied to laughter from the assembled media: “His backing up, I think.”
On a more serious note, Morgan said he had not thought about what it would mean to win the World Cup.
“I haven’t allowed myself to think about lifting the trophy. Cricket and sport in particular is very fickle. If you ever get ahead, it always seems to bite you in the backside,” he said. “For us to win it, I think around the country it would be awesome, great for the game.”
Meanwhile, Morgan is predicting a tight, low-scoring final.
Speaking from experience, as he plays his county cricket for Middlesex at Lord’s, Morgan said: “it isn’t ever a high-scoring ground and I think it will be a bit of a battle.”
Williamson, on the other hand, said his side are happy to embrace their underdogs status.
“To be involved in a World Cup and be representing your country, let alone to turn up here at the home of cricket and be involved in a final is pretty special,” Williamson said on Saturday. “I think England rightly deserve to be favourites.”
“Coming into this tournament from the start, they were favourites and they’ve been playing really good cricket,” added Williamson. “But whatever dog we are, it’s just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play and we have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody — regardless of breed of dog.”
As for suggestions his side would be ‘party poopers’ if they won, Williamson jokingly replied: “You talking about dogs again, hey? Underdogs?”
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019