Twenty-three months on from a day of agony and ecstasy, New Zealand are back at Lord's. Nine of their 19-man squad, seven of whom played in that final, are returning to the scene of their World Cup near-miss, and just in case they needed reminding of the granular detail, they arrived at the Ageas Bowl's hotel for their training camp last month and found Sky Sports' cricket channel showing a rerun of the final.
The circumstances this week are very different: New Zealand are only building up to the main event, the inaugural World Test Championship final against India, which starts on June 18, while Joe Root is likely to be England's lone representative of the 50-over squad from 2019, in the absence of their IPL returnees and the injured Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. Even still, with fans returning to an England home international for the first time since the end of that summer, that Super Over is unlikely to go unmentioned.
The series itself is something of an anomaly: it is not part of the Future Tours Programme or the WTC, and has been bolted onto the front of a jammed schedule for England that includes Sri Lanka and Pakistan's limited-overs tours and the mid-summer headliner: a five-Test series against India. With their multi-format players rested following 10 days of post-IPL hotel quarantine, England have admitted they are using this as a chance to "look at new faces" - including two potential debutants this week in Gloucestershire wicketkeeper-batter James Bracey (whose inclusion was confirmed by Root on Thursday) and Ollie Robinson, the tall Sussex seamer.
This is Chris Silverwood's first series since becoming selector on top of his head coach role, and while there was little intrigue in the squad he named - he was spared any tough decisions by the number of absentees - there is a tricky balancing act to be struck between focusing on the series itself and giving opportunities to players he feels will be important this winter: England's fixation with the 2021-22 Ashes seems to be as strong as ever, and as such, it is not completely guaranteed that James Anderson and Stuart Broad will play together in both Tests. Even in the absence of Archer, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, England's bowling attack is close to full-strength, but their batting is comparatively raw: Rory Burns, with 23 caps, is the second-most experienced member of the top seven behind Root, who needs more support from the rest of the side than he got in Sri Lanka and India earlier this year.
While New Zealand's primary focus will be to ensure they have a fit, in-form squad to pick from in two weeks' time, there is also an opportunity to win in England for the first time this century. The gunslinging series in 2015 finished in a 1-1 draw despite large periods of dominance, and their away record in Tests has been patchy in the last five years, with one series win (against Pakistan in the UAE) in their last five tours.
But this side has proven time and again that they should not be underestimated. Their seamers were the key to their success in the WTC, and they have the depth to cope with Trent Boult's absence in this series, with Tim Southee and Neil Wagner leading the attack. Their batting core is settled and consistent, and while Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and the retiring BJ Watling have been unsung stars, it is Kane Williamson who will be the prized scalp.
Williamson's Test record in England - an average of 30.87 across eight innings - jars with his dominance elsewhere and his composure against the moving ball. He comes into the series on the back of three hundreds (including two doubles) in his four Test knocks in New Zealand's home summer. If he can lead New Zealand to a rare away win and then the WTC trophy, this will be a legacy-defining month.
England: LLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWWWW
In the spotlight
In the absence of Stokes and Jos Buttler, Ollie Pope is the most experienced player in England's engine room from Nos. 5-8, his 17 caps making him a relative veteran. He has started the season well, with 245 and 131 against Leicestershire and Hampshire respectively, but had his technique dissected by Sky's pundits during the televised fixture against Middlesex, in particular his off-stump guard. Pope's logic is that it allows him to leave anything outside off and score heavily off his pads, but it does leave him vulnerable to the nip-backer, especially early on. With his Test average hovering just above 30 after a tough tour to India, England need him to start delivering on his immense potential.
Test cricket is an easy game if your name is Kyle Jamieson. His record so far is six caps, six wins, 36 wickets and an average of 13.27, but this is set to be his first appearance outside of New Zealand, and England will have watched hours of footage from his career to date to work out how to go about playing him. Pitches at Lord's are rarely particularly springy, but at 6ft 8in, he is unlikely to have too many problems finding bounce. His immaculate control of line is one of his biggest assets, which will be tested by the ground's famous slope and the novelty of the Dukes ball. In Boult's absence, he may open the bowling for the first time in his career.
The lack of a genuine allrounder in the squad means that England's top seven effectively picks itself, with Haseeb Hameed and Sam Billings mainly with the squad as cover, while Robinson looks likely to get the nod ahead of Craig Overton at No. 8. Jack Leach's success in the holding role for Somerset at Lord's earlier this summer and the upturn in the weather means Root will probably resist the option of an all-seam attack, though he left open the possibility on Thursday, admitting he had "gained a little bit more confidence in myself" as a spin option on the back of the India tour. It is possible that either Olly Stone or Mark Wood could play ahead of Leach to offer extra pace, or instead of Robinson if England are willing to risk a particularly long tail. Root himself took a blow on his hand in the nets on Monday, but has confirmed he is fully fit.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Dan Lawrence, 7 James Bracey (wk), 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson
Williamson confirmed late on match eve that the in-form Devon Conway would make his Test debut, having been preferred over Tom Blundell or Will Young to open the batting alongside Tom Latham. Colin de Grandhomme is fit again and was an integral part of the rise to No. 1 in the ICC's rankings but Daryl Mitchell performs a similar role and made a hundred in his last Test; and Mitchell Santner is likely to play as a second allrounder - unless the cut to his spinning finger or a green tinge to the surface means that they opt for a four-man seam attack.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme/Daryl Mitchell, 8 Mitchell Santner/Matt Henry, 9 Kyle Jamieson, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Neil Wagner
Pitch and conditions
After a grim, mizzly May, the sun has been shining in London this week and will continue to do so, with highs of 27°C on the first day in St John's Wood and only limited cloud cover throughout the Test. Lord's has not hosted a Test since August 2019, when the second Ashes Test finished in a rain-interrupted draw, and as such the pitch is something of an unknown. There was a slight green tinge to the pitch on Tuesday morning, though Stead said that the grass was cut shorter than New Zealand are used to. Wickets have been more frequent at Lord's than any other ground in the country in this season's County Championship, though that owes as much to Middlesex's flaky batting as anything else.
Stats and trivia
James Anderson will equal Alastair Cook's record for England Test caps, if he plays. He is eight wickets away from 1,000 in his first-class career.
James Bracey will become the first Gloucestershire player to make a Test debut for England since Jon Lewis (now England's seam-bowling coach) in 2006.
This is England's first home game in front of fans since the fifth Ashes Test in 2019. Lord's will host crowds of up to 25% capacity (around 7,500).
Kane Williamson needs 58 runs to go past Stephen Fleming's aggregate in Tests and become New Zealand's second-highest run-scorer of all time, behind Ross Taylor.
New Zealand have lost nine of their last 12 away (or neutral) Tests, dating back to August 2016.
Phil Neale, England's long-serving operating manager until his retirement last October, is working as New Zealand's team liaison officer in this series, while Jeetan Patel, who won 24 Test caps for New Zealand, is England's spin-bowling coach.
"I'm not massively used to batting down the order but I'm confident I'll jump into that. When it comes to batting, I like to be gritty and get into a battle. I'm not afraid to put in those hard yards and go through tough spells." James Bracey, who bats at No. 3 in county cricket, is prepared for a new role in the lower-middle order
"It was emotional to a certain extent to think back about being involved in that match and some of the controversies that surrounded it and the drama and all these sorts of things that come with tournament cricket and some of the fine margins. The guys are really excited to be back here: it is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to play at Lord's" Kane Williamson on New Zealand's return to the scene of the 2019 World Cup final