Whichever team ends up victorious, it's been a long time coming

Just a few short days ago, it seemed likely that one of the World Cup powerhouses would add another trophy to their cabinet. India was looming as the best side in the tournament as they searched for a third victory at the biggest event in the game, while Australia, for so long a dominant force at the World Cup, were looking to win for a sixth time at just the 12th edition of the tournament. India, however, stumbled, with perhaps they themselves joining the many who underestimated New Zealand, and in particular their bowling attack.

The next day, Australia was always going to have to play to a high level to beat an England team that had come into form at the right time and which was playing in front of a parochial home crowd, but no one thought the match would be as one-sided as it was. Australia never looked comfortable with bat in hand and could only manage a barely competitive total, which England chased down with aplomb.

Now, the World Cup final is set to be contested between two proud cricketing nations who have never before held the trophy aloft, and one of them will finally emerge victorious close to 45 years after the initial staging of the tournament.

England is the oldest cricketing nation in the world, and has at various points since the beginning of the World Cup been one of the world's best. Add to that the fact that they had the advantage of hosting the first three incarnations of the event, and it's a surprise to many that they have never been able to go all the way. In England, however, it hasn't exactly gone under the radar.

In the early stages of 50-over cricket they were perhaps the most consistently dangerous team. Between 1975 and 1992, over the course of the first five World Cup's, they made it to the semi-final on every occasion. Twice they lost there, while the other three times they advanced through to the final. 

On the first of these occasions they were suffocated by the might of the West Indies, but the next time they made it there they fared a little better, losing in heartbreaking fashion to Australia after they fell just seven runs short of the Aussies total of 253. Five years later they found themselves in a similar situation, needing 250 to beat Pakistan for a maiden World Cup win - that time, however, they fell 22 runs short, leaving them with a finals record of 0-3 and a 0-5 record after reaching the semi-final stage.

From there onwards, things began to go downhill. They made a quarter-final in 1996 but failed to advance past that, and in three of the five World Cup's since then have failed to advance past the Group Stage. They progressed in 2007 and 2011, but even on those occasions it was only to the Super Eight and the quarter-finals respectively.

Come 2019, and everything was lined up for the proud cricketing nation. They were the number one side in the world and had the home ground advantage, and yet they started off the event poorly and, at one point, were no certainty to even make it to the Final Four. They hit form at the right time, however, and suddenly they find themselves in a World Cup final for the first time since 1992 in a game which they will enter as relatively comfortable favourites.

The Kiwis, however, will not agree. A proud cricketing nation, they have always been competitive enough but rarely been in a genuine conversation for the best teams in the world, something which no doubt grates at both players and supporters alike.

And their record at the World Cup does nothing to dispel that idea. In reality, they have been one of the most consistent sides over the course of the tournament since it began in 1975. They made a semi-final in each of the first two editions of the event, then again in 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2011, making it six semi-finals in ten attempts - not a bad record. 

The major problem, however, is that all six of those semi-finals ended in defeat. Consistently competitive, for a long time it seemed the little Oceanic nation just didn't have it in them to take that extra step. 

In 2015, however, they shared hosting duties along with Australia, and at long last broke through for a maiden World Cup final. In the semi, they faced off against fellow perennial semi-finalist in South Africa in Auckland, and after conceding a daunting total in a rain-affected first innings, motored to 299/6 off just 42.5 overs to book themselves a place in the final against Australia.

Unfortunately, the big stage proved all too much for them. Australia rolled them for just 183, before chasing down the total with seven wickets in hand and a little under 17 overs to play.

In 2019, they were expected to be competing for the final spot in the Final Four, with Australia, India and England occupying the top three spots. Things all went exactly as scheduled, with New Zealand grabbing the fourth spot courtesy of a strong start to the tournament. What wasn't scripted, however, was their defeat of India in the semi-final, which booked them a place in a second consecutive final. 

The timeline appears perfect to breakthrough for a victory. After years of putting out a team competitive enough to challenge but seemingly not good enough to go all the way, they took a step forward in 2015 by breaking through for a finals appearance - and yet once on the grandest stage, they didn't seem ready for it, as though the pressure of the decades building up to that moment all came crashing down on them. 

This time, perhaps they'll be better prepared. Many of their players and coaches have been here before, playing in a World Cup final against a crowd which is almost exclusively hoping the opposition wins. Last time, it didn't end well for them, but they say that you learn more from your losses than your wins, and perhaps this will be a case in point.

Regardless of the outcome, the fact that one of these teams will win an inaugural World Cup after almost five decades of almost, but not quite, will bring a smile to the faces of many, and not just those inside the walls of the winning nation. They've both had to wait a long time, and while for one that wait will continue, for another, it will all have been leading up to this moment.

More Blog Posts