England and New Zealand head into their final World Cup group match on Wednesday, each knowing a win will see them into the semi-finals.
Even a defeat would not spell the end of either team’s chances of emerging as one of the top four from the 10-team round-robin phase.
If England lose in Chester-le-Street, Pakistan could leapfrog them into the top four with victory over Bangladesh, whose own semi-final hopes ended with a defeat by India on Tuesday that sent Virat Kohli’s men through.
It would take an unlikely turn of events to deny New Zealand a place in the last four, such is their net run-rate advantage over Pakistan.
But right now, England and New Zealand’s World Cup destiny is in their own hands.
England have arrived in the northeast buoyed by a 31-run win over an India side that were previously unbeaten.
Sunday’s success came after back-to-back defeats by Sri Lanka and reigning champions Australia had led many pundits to question their tournament nerve and nous.
But the pleasing aspect for England, other than the result, was that the defeat of India was built on many of the factors that have been key to their one-day international revival since a first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.
England bounce back
Openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy seized the match by the scruff of the neck, Ben Stokes chipped in with a third consecutive fifty and England kept it tight in the field.
“I think two defeats in a row [sharpens a team],” said England captain Eoin Morgan. “It was clear after the Australia game that there was a huge amount of disappointment in the changing room.
“The fact that we’ve been able to turn that around, identify where we are at and identify what we need to do in order to progress to the semis made things clearer about how we want to continue to play, which hasn’t changed.”
Wednesday’s match represents a chance for England to show just how much they have improved since a crushing defeat by New Zealand in their last World Cup clash.
England were skittled for just 123 by New Zealand in a group match at Wellington four years ago — a total the Black Caps overhauled in a mere 12.2 overs en route to an eventual defeat by co-hosts Australia in the final.
“It was as close to rock-bottom as I’ve been,” Morgan said. “Certainly as a captain and as a player, being beaten off the park like that was humiliating.”
New Zealand, however, have yet to hit similar heights at this year’s tournament and head into the match following successive losses to Pakistan and Australia that have taken the gloss off a promising campaign.
An attack led by left-arm quick Trent Boult, who took a hat-trick against Australia, and featuring the express pace of Lockie Ferguson is a testing proposition for any side.
But they have been dangerously over-reliant on captain Kane Williamson and fellow senior batsman Ross Taylor for runs, with Martin Guptill, the leading run-scorer at the 2015 World Cup, struggling badly.
“I’d love as a team to take a little bit of pressure off Kane and score some runs and not let him do everything,” said Taylor.
“We definitely haven’t got the momentum that we would have liked in the last couple of games, but tomorrow is a different story against different opposition.”
© Agence France-Presse