LONDON • England can cap a stunning white-ball transformation in the Cricket World Cup final today against a New Zealand side chasing their own place in history.
Lord's will anoint new 50-over world champions, 23 years since Sri Lanka's maiden title in Pakistan, after holders Australia (four) and India, who shared the last five World Cups, wilted in the semi-finals.
Of the two protagonists who will square off at the "home of cricket" today, the hosts have more at stake.
Eoin Morgan and his men are agonisingly close to completing a remarkable turnaround since their humiliating loss to the Kiwis at the 2015 World Cup that changed an Ashes-obsessed England's approach to one-day cricket.
Under the Australian Trevor Bayliss, they have reinvented themselves as ruthless one-day juggernauts, routinely racking up 300-plus scores with their fearless style to reclaim the top ODI ranking last year after a five-year gap.
"It's been a process for the last four years," said Morgan after routing Australia by eight wickets.
New Zealand have been probably the hardest side to beat. Their performance in the semi-final was probably their best and will be a difficult side to beat on Sunday.
EOIN MORGAN, England captain, on today's World Cup final against New Zealand.
Most New Zealand sides are the underdogs, regardless of what sport they play. But, just like the India game, we will put our best foot forward and, hopefully, that is good enough.
ROSS TAYLOR, New Zealand batsman, on being the underdogs against the hosts and world No. 1.
"In 2015 we were way off the mark. We struggled against the top teams, so there was quite a drastic change in the way we looked at playing our 50-over cricket."
Many of the elements that made England pre-tournament favourites were on show on Thursday.
Pacemen Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes reduced Australia to 14-3 and leg-spinner Adil Rashid took wickets in the middle.
The run chase saw Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow reprise the most-successful ODI opening act, with their fourth successive century partnership in the 10-team tournament.
Morgan, however, will not take anything for granted against Kane Williamson's team, who upstaged India in the semi-final.
Matt Henry and Trent Boult blew away India's top order in a low-scoring thriller and, with Lockie Ferguson in the ranks, they could be quite a handful for any batting line-up.
It is perhaps appropriate that England are facing New Zealand, who showed them how to play the modern one-day game at the World Cup four years ago - pummelling them for just 123 and then overhauling the total in a mere 12.2 overs.
"It was as close to rock-bottom as I've been," said Morgan. "Being beaten off the park like that was humiliating.
"New Zealand have been probably the hardest side to beat. Their performance in the semi-final was probably their best and will be a difficult side to beat on Sunday."
The Black Caps began well before three defeats to end the group stage, capped by a rout by England that nearly scuttled their campaign.
They are aiming to go one better than their seven-wicket loss to co-hosts Australia in the 2015 final.
The underdogs status will be good motivation, said senior batsman Ross Taylor, adding: "Apart from the All Blacks (rugby union team), most New Zealand sides are the underdogs, regardless of what sport they play. We know we will be up against it.
"But, just like the India game, we will put our best foot forward and, hopefully, that is good enough."
Against India, Williamson and his men showed how to defend a low total against a strong line-up, complementing their accurate bowlers with trademark sharp fielding.
The only grey area is their batting, which relies heavily on their captain, comfortably their leading run scorer with a tournament-high 91-plus average, and Taylor.
Opener Martin Guptill has been woefully out of form since his 73 not out in the Sri Lanka opener.
Coach Gary Stead predicts a hard-fought match.
"I expect both teams to play the game really hard in the middle. Both teams play the game in the right way," he said. "The exciting thing is you're going to have a different winner than last time."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND
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