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Calm batting, cool bowling and collected fielding helps tourists go 2-1 up in ODI series against New Zealand
England beat New Zealand by four runs
This was a different side to England’s 50-over revolution.
So often under Eoin Morgan’s captaincy, his team have noticed for their explosive batting and mastery of the chase, often on tracks that encourage and facilitate big-hitting.
In Wellington on Saturday, confronted with a poor drop-in wicket that was at times sluggish and at times explosive, their potent top order was patient.
Then, with a modest total to defend - assistant coach Paul Farbrace himself said England felt they were below par - the tourists’ spinners were disciplined, their groundfielding was excellent and, after New Zealand’s middle order gave them a helping hand, Morgan’s men came up with an impressive four-run win.
To understand just how difficult this pitch was, you need only have looked at the strike rates of England’s two top scorers in the first innings.
Ben Stokes, who made 39 from 73 balls, and Eoin Morgan, with 48 from 71, were not able to take on the Kiwi attack as they would usually like.
Kane Williamson ended 112 not out
However, instead of losing their heads the pair settled in for the long haul, ensuring England’s potent lower order had the platform to accelerate towards the end.
Having posted 234 all out from their 50 overs, England would have been worried when their hosts were trotting along at 80 for one in the 17th over, with Kane Williamson and Colin Munro well set.
But Stokes’ superb diving catch to dismiss Munro sparked a spectacular collapse, partially inspired by intelligent spin bowling by Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid and partially by kamikazi batting by the Kiwi middle order.
Williamson and Mitchell Santner steadied New Zealand but their cause was hampered when Santner was unluckily run out backing up at the non-striker’s end.
His captain remained, however, and after battling to a stoic century was left needing 15 off the final over.
Chris Woakes was hooked for six to leave the equation at seven from three and five off two but Williamson couldn’t get his team over the line.
Earlier, England’s openers had battled through eight difficult overs before Jason Roy was caught out by a rising delivery from Trent Boult which took part of the surface of the Cake Tin pitch with it. Martin Guptill swallowed the chance at slip, Roy shook his head frustratedly as he headed for the pavilion.
Williamson dropped a sharp chance off a Root pull when the England captain was on nine and for a handful of overs it seemed the Kiwi skipper could come to regret it, as the tourists’ No. 3 settled quickly.
Eoin Morgan impressed with the bat
A pair of sweeps off Santner helped Root towards a run-a-ball 20 before he charged Colin de Grandhomme and slapped the ball towards mid-on, where Ish Sodhi held on well to his right.
It was a needless end to a promising innings and Root, head to the turf for several seconds after the catch was taken, knew it.
England continued to get in and get out. Jonny Bairstow was flummoxed by a Sodhi wrong’un, clean bowled through the gate, and at 68 for three, the visitors found themselves in a precarious position. By hook or by crook, however, Stokes and Morgan gave their side a chance of a competitive total.
For Stokes, it was an uncomfortable innings. The allrounder was squared up by De Grandhomme’s trundlers, saw his bat broken by the Kiwi medium pacer, was struck in the midriff twice - once by a Morgan straight drive and again by a short ball by Boult.
But while progress was slow, Stokes’s role was crucial.
He and Morgan stabilised the innings, reaching a 50 partnership in 82 balls - the first time an England pair have ever put on a half-century stand at the Westpac Stadium.
Ben Stokes broke his bat
While the skipper scored at a much faster pace, picking off Sodhi over midwicket for the opening six of the game, Stokes occupied the crease.
Unable to bully on a flat track, England’s middle order showed a different dimension to their batting.
Morgan was eventually undone by a snorting delivery from Southee which clattered tinto the top of his off stump and Stokes followed, running out of patience against Sodhi and finding Colin Munro on the long-off boundary, but a platform had at least been laid.
Buttler, unafraid of the mixed messages sent by the playing surface for the previous 37 overs, arrived at the crease and immediately took the attack to New Zealand.
Sodhi was deposited for a graceful, in-to-out six over extra cover and the impetus was with England for the first time in the innings, only for Buttler to get a fine edge through to Latham to end his knock at 29.
Moeen Ali, Woakes and Adil Rashid ensured a competitive total, however, and on a scruffy, scuffed-up pitch the tourists had more than half a chance.
In reply, New Zealand lost Guptill cheaply, with the powerful opener lobbing up a gentle catch to Tom Curran at mid-on, while Colin Munro led a charmed life.
The opener came out wielding his bat like an epee, almost ran himself out and picking out the space between three England fielders with an ugly top edge.
Once his frantic knock calmed, however, he and skipper Kane Williamson were able to manipulate the field and pick off runs with ease.
A sensational catch by Stokes, flying to his left to get rid of Munro, knocked the wheels out of joint, however, and within a matter of minutes the New Zealand cart was in desperate need of roadside recovery.
From 80 for one, the Kiwis collapsed to 103 for six as the middle order, minus the injured Ross Taylor, totally failed their trial by England’s spin twins.
Moeen drew Mark Chapman into a curious swipe on the run, which looped up to Morgan at backward point, while Tom Latham was trapped lbw first ball and Henry Nicholls suffered the same fate, this time at the hands of Rashid.
When De Grandhomme, from his eighth ball, charged Moeen and sent a mistimed lofted drive straight to Woakes at long-on, Williamson’s glare was pervasive.
Santner offered much more support to his captain, hanging around until there were fewer than 40 runs left to get but once he was run out by Woakes, and Southee skied the ball to Stokes in the deep, the skipper had it all to do.
Williamson was almost in tears at the end, his one-man resistance ultimately proving not to be enough.
For England, emotions were very different.