By Niall Anderson in London

They've been hugely influential in the Black Caps' run to the Cricket World Cup final, but to raise the trophy, New Zealand's new ball bowlers are going to have to overcome their greatest foe.

England's openers – Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow – have been the only opening batsmen to dominate New Zealand's superb seam attack, who have otherwise consistently managed to make vital early breakthroughs.

Against the Black Caps' new ball bowlers – usually Trent Boult and Matt Henry – opposition have regularly seen a batsman slink back to the pavilion early in the innings.


Sri Lanka's opening pairing lasted only two balls. India's just nine. South Africa's stand was broken after 11 deliveries, the West Indies 16, Pakistan 18 and Australia 27.

Only Bangladesh - 43 balls - and some fluky hitting from Afghanistan – 65 - managed to get out of the first eight overs unscathed.

And then we get to England.

Not only did Roy and Bairstow survive, they slaughtered – smashing 123 in 18.4 overs. And, arguably of more concern for the Black Caps is the fact they seem to have only improved, adding 124 in just 17.2 overs to blow Australia's chances out of the water in their semifinal.

These performances are no outliers – the pair's average partnership (69.5) is the highest in ODI history of any pair to have combined for 1000 runs, and they do it at the fastest run rate in history as well, with their 7.1 runs per over knocking off even the Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum tag team which electrified the 2015 World Cup.

Jason Roy of England batting against New Zealand during the group stage. Photo / Getty
Jason Roy of England batting against New Zealand during the group stage. Photo / Getty

Both are also in tremendous form, with Bairstow having hit two centuries in his last three outings, while Roy has smacked consecutive scores of 153, 66, 60 and 85.

"They've been awesome getting their team off to a brilliant start," said Black Caps captain Kane Williamson.

"Those guys have been playing beautifully well for a long time. But certainly in this tournament as well, under different sorts of pressure. They're a big weapon for them at the top of the order."


There's reason for the Black Caps to have hope, however. Roy was nearly bowled first ball by Mitchell Santner – the arm-ball sneaking through for four byes – while almost chopped on to Boult when on 19.

Additionally, Tim Southee took the new ball instead of Henry, and was rusty in his first ODI since February, while the surface at Chester-le-Street was a batsman's paradise for the first 20 overs.

In the final at Lord's, where the tried and trusted combination of Henry and Boult are likely to open the bowling, things could be different, and Williamson knows their strategies will need to be as aggressive as they were in the semifinal against India to have their best chance of handing England an early blow.

"It is a challenge, but trying to be aggressive with the ball in hand to give yourself the opportunity to take those wickets is the best way to stop anybody from getting away on you.

"If you get on a surface that is a bit harder to hit through the line, then perhaps it's not as free-flowing. We know when those two – and a lot of others in their lineup, to be fair – are going, they can be very difficult to stop, especially on very good surfaces."

An admirable plan, but Williamson's one caveat – "a lot of others" – is a potent reminder of England's incredible batting luxury.

Succeed in dismissing the best opening partnership in the history of ODI cricket? Well then, try to do the same to Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and a slew of handy lower-order batsmen.

It could well be the biggest challenge in the career of many of the Black Caps bowlers.

But that's what you'd expect for what will be the biggest game of their lives.