'World Cup final a crucial moment for cricket in this country'

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Highlights: England reach World Cup final

There was a time, not too long ago, when there were questions hanging over this England side.

Defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia left them on the verge of going out of the World Cup.

Not only that, but their confidence seemed to have been lost. They were in a pretty bad place.

That they have turned it around to win three games in succession, including a complete performance to sweep aside Australia in the semi-final, shows strength of character and great leadership.

They had to win their final two group games, against India and New Zealand, to reach the last four.

When England were faced with that scenario, we did say that if they managed to pull it off, they would come steaming into the semis with momentum behind them.

So it has proved. Even though they have had precious little experience of these kinds of World Cup games - they had not reached this stage since their last run to the final in 1992 - they were at their bullying best to take Australia to the cleaners at Edgbaston.

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Australia 14-3 as England make dream start

There may have been some disappointment from an England point of view when Australia won the toss and chose to bat, but it actually turned out to be a good toss to lose.

They bowled exceptionally well on a full length. Jofra Archer was outstanding with his pace and hostility. Chris Woakes is an unsung hero, but he has developed over the tournament and was a deserving player of the match.

From 14-3, it was a long road back for Australia. Even when Steve Smith and Alex Carey were rebuilding, you never had the sense that England were anything other than in control.

Their fielding was brilliant and Jos Buttler's run-out of Smith probably took 30 runs off the chase.

Still, there remained the threat of Mitchell Starc with the new ball, but Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy played very sensibly.

Yes, they played some great shots, but they did not just look to blast the ball. They had a look at the bowling, rather than going straight into the power-hitting.

Once they were up and running, the game was in the bag.

Clearly, it was a big help for England to have the crowd right behind them, with all the noise and grief they gave to Smith and David Warner.

If Australia were not sure of what they would be in for when the Ashes begin on this ground on 1 August, they do now. They will return with unpleasant memories, while England will know that they have a fantastic record here.

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Megs! Smith run out through his legs

That, though, is in the future. The present is a World Cup final against New Zealand, a match England will begin as firm favourites.

That does not mean New Zealand should be taken lightly. They are gutsy fighters, full of determination and commitment. They pulled off a huge shock to defeat India in their semi-final.

In Kane Williamson, they have one of the world's finest batsmen, while Trent Boult is a potent threat with the new ball.

The Black Caps have, though, tended to rely on a couple of players throughout this tournament. If they are to win on Sunday, it will have to be down to more than Williamson and Boult.

Martin Guptill has had a lean time, but is incredibly dangerous at the top of the order and is a fine fielder.

Ross Taylor is classy in the middle order and Lockie Ferguson possesses raw pace. Even beyond those who I have mentioned, all of the players will be flying because they are playing in a World Cup final at the home of cricket.

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Roy smashes Smith for three sixes in a row

However, there is no reason why England cannot win. They have been building up to this moment for four years and will go into Sunday knowing that it is not only an opportunity to win the World Cup, but also a crucial moment for cricket in this country.

The authorities have been playing catch-up on interest and participation for a number of years. That is why we have seen initiatives at grassroots level and the introduction of The Hundred from next year.

It is an important and correct decision for the game to be shown on free-to-air television, because it is essential that as many people as possible see England play - and hopefully win - a World Cup final.

From Sky's point of view, they may attract many customers of the future.

It will be a wonderful occasion. Not the usual genteel atmosphere you expect from Lord's, but flags and horns from a crowd that is likely to be hugely behind England.

Over the past number of years, we have seen England win the Ashes in that memorable series of 2005, then follow that up with the wonderful series win in Australia in 2010-11.

They have won the World Twenty20, while the England women's team have won everything available to them, not least that huge moment of winning their own home World Cup two years ago.

The missing piece, as it has been for so long, is the men's 50-over World Cup.

England have a fantastic opportunity to put that right on Sunday.

It promises to be some day.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Stephan Shemilt at Edgbaston.

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