England and New Zealand are preparing to meet on the one-day international stage for the first time since their wild, never-to-be-forgotten Cricket World Cup final more than four years ago.
This time, it is in the calmer surroundings of a four-match series serving as a warmup for the World Cup starting in India next month.
Still, there’s plenty riding on it.
Just ask Harry Brook.
In a surprise and arguably premature selection, Brook — one of England’s most explosive batters — was left out of the provisional 15-man squad for the World Cup that was announced in mid-August. A preference for more versatile middle-order batters such as Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone was the reason given by selector Luke Wright.
How Brook has made the team’s leadership squirm.
In his next three innings, he has smashed a 42-ball 105 not out in The Hundred competition before an unbeaten 43 and then 67 in the first two matches of the Twenty20 series against New Zealand.
It came as little surprise that England white-ball coach Matthew Mott suddenly left the door open to last-minute changes to the World Cup squad. Brook was added on Wednesday to the group for the ODI series against New Zealand starting in Cardiff on Friday.
In theory, he has been drafted in as cover, with Jonny Bairstow a doubt with pain in his right shoulder sustained in the fourth T20 against New Zealand, won by the tourists to tie the series at 2-2.
A couple of others might be sweating on World Cup places, too. Malan appears the most vulnerable of the specialist batters, while the form of allrounder Liam Livingstone — as big a hitter as Brook, but less reliable — has started to come under scrutiny.
Ben Stokes, who is back in the ODI team after reversing his decision to retire from the 50-over format, had some glowing words for Brook on Thursday, further enhancing his case for World Cup selection.
“Harry has been in incredible form over the last 18 months in all formats for England,” said Stokes, who captains Brook in England’s test team. “Everyone is aware of how good a player he is.
“It’s obvious he is going to be around every England squad for the next 5-10 years so it’s good to see him now transitioning his form that we’ve seen in the whites to the colors for England.”
Without naming names, Stokes said some players will feel under pressure for their places going into this series.
“That’s the reality of being in a very strong team — and we are a very strong team, we know that,” he said. “Competition for places is the best possible thing for us as individuals and as a team. I’m sure a lot of final decisions will potentially be made around some of the form that the lads show in the series.”
Stokes hasn’t played since the Ashes and therefore since he was enticed back to ODIs by the prospect of winning back-to-back World Cups, having played a huge role in that victory over New Zealand at Lord’s four years ago.
“The closer and closer it got,” he said, “I started thinking differently about (being retired from ODIs), and going to India and trying to defend the World Cup was obviously a big reason for saying I’m available for selection.”
New Zealand doesn’t name its World Cup squad until Monday, and the team had good news this week when captain Kane Williamson was declared fit enough to be included after injuring his knee in the Indian Premier League.
Williamson has made sufficient progress in his recovery, although he may not be fit enough to play New Zealand’s first match of the tournament.