Which of these two captains will still be smiling at the end of tomorrow? ©Getty
Here we go. One last match. One final push.
On Sunday the World Cup will have a first-time winner. And maybe because both England and New Zealand know they are in it together as “never beens” that both sides were a picture of relaxation on Saturday ahead of the biggest match of their collective lives.
Both the captains were pictures of calm. Kane Williamson’s best performances have come with bat in hand, but stick a microphone in front of him and he is just as classy. Might he be cricket’s most underrated funny man? Dry wit, delivery timed as well as those runs down to third man. Rarely will a man carry himself with such distinction despite every reason to run with his own hype. He was still in the nets at 5pm. Practice makes perfect and Kane is as close as the modern game has to the latter.
Eoin Morgan, usually stern-faced and a poker-player-like ability to give you nothing after taking all you have, smiled when considering his embrace with former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum moments before his press conference. A friend and inspiration, McCullum may well be entitled to a medal whichever way things go at Lord’s.
The thread of McCullum is an interesting one to tug at. For so long he was the embodiment of a Blackcaps side, regularly everyone’s second-favourite side but never able to push to number one. England make no attempt to hide just how important his brand of play is to theirs, and the evidence is right there in front of you.
For New Zealand, there was a sense of disappointment after the 2015 final (naturally – they lost) because they were unable to give their talismanic cricketer a fitting send-off. As far as leaving gifts go, nothing beats silverware.
Without question, the Blackcaps are the neutral favourites, but even those who usually barrack against England will appreciate this particular version have not only entertained but taken the rest of the world with them. It does beg the question though – Who needs it more?
Perhaps New Zealand? Their squad has the feel of a band of blokes thrown together by seating plan rather than shared experience. They have come from far and wide, beyond their own shores which, like the eclectic nature of the England side they face, is something to be celebrated. Williamson deserves a legacy, and Ross Taylor, too. And given how precarious life is as a fast bowler, what a joy it has been to see Lockie Ferguson play nine matches across five weeks and still crank out such devastating pace on a regular basis.
But definitely England.
Because when they decided to move towards ODI cricket, they did so at the expense of their Test hopes. At the very least, a first 50-over ICC trophy will go some way to plastering over that damage and may even give the scorned purists some joy.
Crucially though, England is a show-and-tell nation. Perhaps it is the mindset football has ingrained in the culture here, but success is measured in trophies. It really is that black and white. In future years when we look back on this England team, we would be right to label them as the best the country has ever had.
But anecdotes will not cut it. Stories of Jos Buttler innings, Chris Woakes opening spells and that time Ben Stokes took the most ridiculous of catches to kick this whole jamboree off will be tinged in deep disappointment that they left a home World Cup empty-handed. Trophies are the best measure of success and only the gold of this Cricket World Cup will provide the best reflection. Stories around the fire are great, but it’s the mantlepiece that matters.
No one has a right to success and professional sport, especially at this level, cares not for emotion or even justice to a point. Yet it is hard to split that between the feeling both these countries deserve to have their day in the sun and evening toasting what they achieved during it.
Tomorrow, there will be a new name on the World Cup. And a deserved one at that.