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Fine half-centuries by Scott Styris and Jacob Oram guided New Zealand to a six-wicket victory over England in their opening Group C match at the World Cup on Friday.
Chasing 210 for victory, the Kiwis were home with nine overs to spare.
Styris scored an unbeaten 87 off 133 balls while Oram was also undefeated with 63 off 83 deliveries.
For his all-round contribution -- he claimed two wickets for 25 runs earlier - Styris was named man of the match.England innings
Teams can talk all they want of being ready for the big one -- but come the time for the big one, nerves take control of even the most battle-ready teams.
Nerves, more than good cricket, characterized the early exchanges in the New Zealand-England group game. Stephen Fleming called right and opted to insert; he was banking on the wicket being juiced up by the early morning rain, which had delayed start of play by half an hour, and affording swing, seam and speed for his bowlers.
Swing and seam were nominal; speed and bounce existed early on, but James Franklin and Shane Bond seemed too nervy to take advantage. Franklin had two no balls in his opening over; Bond produced two wides and a no ball; both bowlers looked to bowl well within themselves, content to send them through the channel and hope for the best.
England benched Andrew Strauss and batted Ed Joyce at the top of the order. The batsman lasted exactly one delivery: a widish one from James Franklin outside off, that Joyce slashed at and under-edged to Brendan McCullum behind the stumps (0/1; 1/1).
Ian Bell looked fluent and reasonably relaxed; he got to 5 off the second ball of the 5th over, and then fretted at one end while, at the other, Michael Vaughan hogged most of the strike. That frustration resulted in a wild drive at a delivery from Jacob Oram that was too wide for the shot; McCullum held the outer edge with ease (5/19; 30/2).
The nerve-ridden play by both teams reached a peak in the 11th over. Kevin Pietersen, back in the lineup after a long injury layoff, pushed one back past Oram, and took off for a single. At the other end, Vaughan had his back turned to his partner; he was looking to ground his bat in case the shot ricocheted onto the stumps.
When Vaughan finally looked up, Pietersen was standing right beside him - and Daniel Vettori had sprinted around from mid on and fielded the ball. Followed high comedy, as Vaughan jumped out of his skin and tried to cover the 22 yards in two strides. Vettori meanwhile produced a throw that would have disgraced his little sister; even so, McCullum had all the time to collect and get it back to the stumps, but fumbled with Vaughan still less than halfway home.
It was keystone Kops stuff. Vaughan was 20 at the time and England 33/2.
Pietersen took a few balls to get a feel, then opened out in the 15th over. He first came dancing down to Oram, realized he couldn't get to the pitch, changed tack and flicked fine for four. To the next ball, the batsman took two giant strides forward, and flat-batted a flicked pull to the midwicket fence.
At 52/2 after 15, England was doing well; three balls later, the captain - who had started fluently before getting inexplicably bogged down -- threw away the advantage with a pull at a Franklin delivery that wasn't short enough for the shot; Vaughan managed only to drag it on off his inside edge (26/52; 52/3).
The Kiwis did well to rein Pietersen in during the Power Plays, after that early explosion; at the end of 20 overs, England had made 70/3 and `KP', batting 22/37, had played out 27 dot balls. That fact - the slow nature of the pitch, with the ball not coming on - inhibited Pietersen's natural fluency; it permitted Fleming to bring on Jeetan Patel, the less experienced of his two spinners, in the 21st over with Daniel Vettori coming on in the next over. Pietersen was lucky to survive an LBW shout off Vettori's first delivery; umpire Rudi Koertzen saw some doubt where none existed (23/40 KP at the time; England 72/3).
The two spinners have done superbly thus far: at the 25 over mark, with England 85/3, Patel and Vettori have bowled 5 overs for 15 runs. Pietersen is batting on an uncharacteristic 32/56; of these, four fours contributed 16; the other 52 deliveries have produced just 16 runs. Collingwood at the other end is 13/26.
Even by the halfway stage, the pitch has started keeping slower and lower; the danger of dragging the ball back from outside off continues to grow. Paul Collingwood was lucky to get away twice: once on the drive to a ball outside off, then with an attempted cut.
Pietersen's calling - akin to putting your life's savings on a spin of the roulette wheel - has also been keeping the Kiwis interested. At the half way stage, it's cat-and-mouse out there - and there is no telling which is the cat, and which the mouse.
One canny captain, one thinking bowler, much homework done behind the scenes (vide the dismissals of Pietersen and Flintoff): that combination sealed England's fate, just when it looked like Pietersen would announce himself on the World Cup stage with a classic.
Pietersen's biceps, big-hitting feats and general brashness camouflage an astute batting mind. While his colleagues worked up a sweat trying to force the ball square on a pitch that played slow, Pietersen kept coming forward, chipping the ball into gaps, and ticking them over with a minimum of fuss. 60 off 98 was not an impressive run rate by his standards, nor were the 56 dot balls. But against that, `KP' had worked the ball around for 27 singles and four twos, he was getting the board moving; with Collingwood, he had added 81 off 120, and England had a platform to launch from.
And then, the wheels came off. In the 35th over, Paul Collingwood attempted to duplicate the Pietersen chip, but mistimed - and Styris fluffed a return catch high to his left. Two deliveries later, to a delivery just outside off, Collingwood attempted to steer late. The ball was too full, and too close to the stumps, for the shot; McCullum stayed low and showed the softest of hands while making a hard catch look deceptively easy (31/54; 133/4).
Andrew Flintoff walked out to join Pietersen - and Fleming immediately tossed the ball to his premier bowler. Bond obliged. The third ball of his first over in this spell was held back a touch; Pietersen came down the wicket looking to chip, mistimed the shot thanks to the bowler's deception, and picked out long on (60/92; 133/5).
That wicket showed shrewdness. Pietersen had been chipping by rote and doing well out of the shot; Bond produced just the ball that could negate the shot. Even shrewder, though, was the last ball of that same over - the first Flintoff was facing in his innings. The big England all-rounder likes to stick his front foot out to length and hit through the line; Bond put one in the slot, but rolled his fingers over the seam during delivery.
Flintoff failed to spot the well-disguised slower ball, went through with his shot, and patted it tamely to extra cover (0/1; 134/6).
All the good work done by Collingwood and Pietersen had been negated in the space of 7 deliveries, that produced one run and three wickets. Four runs later, Jamie Dalrymple did his bit for the England implosion: against the nagging wicket to wicket line of Styris, he tried to do a Collingwood, and edged an attempted steer to third man for McCullum to reprise the earlier catch (3/12; 138/7).
At 140/7 after 40 overs, England had neither the platform, nor wickets in hand, to explode. Liam Plunkett saved his team's blushes, taking a leaf from the KP playbook and hitting very straight when he could. A four off Styris in the 43; a six off Vettori in the 46th, and nudged and nurdled singles in between helped add valuable runs to the team score, while at the other end, Nixon swept, reverse swept, pushed, prodded and added his quota of singles.
Towards the end, Nixon opened out, hitting Patel for successive boundaries in the 49th over to bring up the 200; their late flourish, and a sensibly-paced partnership of 71 off 71 deliveries, took England to a score of 209/7 after 50.
That score is a good 40-50 runs below par; it is, equally, a good 40-50 runs more than it would have hoped for after being reduced to 134/7 at one point.
New Zealand produced a fits and starts performance in the field - electric saves, some great catches especially with the gloves, and some shoddy work in the field and in the air in between. The bowlers, by and large, delivered what was asked of them, though Vettori, for once, won't like to see a run rate of 5.3 against his name in a low-scoring game.
The standout by a long way was Shane Bond - an analysis of 10-1-19-2 is good enough for starters, but when those two wickets are Pietersen and Flintoff, one taken out in full flow, the other done first ball, his contribution becomes invaluable.
The standout, by a long margin, was Shane Bond. Analysis of 10-1-19-2 is remarkable in itself; in a World Cup stage against a top team, it is scarcely believable. But when those two wickets are Pietersen, cut down in full flow, and Flintoff, taken out first ball, there is no putting a value on the effort.
England is a good 40-50 runs below par. The only game in town, for them, is to bowl very tight lines, try and apply the squeeze early, and hope New Zealand's nerve crumbles. Easier said than done - squeeze all you will, a team chasing at 4 per over knows it merely needs to bat through to win.
New Zealand innings
Damned if I've seen such a start to a chase - England, right at the outset, jimmied the window of opportunity open with a first over wicket, then forced it wider and wider with two more strikes.
Just when they were getting a good look at an improbable win, Scott Styris and Craig McMillan shut it in their faces - only for Monty Panesar to kick a hole in it once more.
The sixth ball of the innings produced a breakthrough. James Anderson bowled one down the channel; Lou Vincent rocked back and felt for it outside his off, to feather the ball through to Paul Nixon (0/4; 1/1).
Two balls later, a magnificent slip catch produced another breakthrough: Taylor flashed outside his off stump at Liam Plunkett; Flintoff dove a long way to his right at slip to snare the ball as it flew off the edge (0/4; 3/2).
It should have been 7/3 five balls later - Anderson, at the start of his second over, trapped Stephen Fleming bang in front of off as the Kiwi skipper pushed down the wrong line at an in-ducker; Asad Rauf - who likely heads most people's list of the worst umpires on the ICC panel today - blinked twice, and turned the appeal down.
Fleming didn't last long enough to take advantage, though. Anderson bounced one in his third over; Fleming went for the pull, top edged the shot and as the ball climbed higher and higher, Ed Joyce ran backwards from midwicket, taking it as it fell over his shoulder (7/11; 19/3).
Styris and McMillan then got together in a counter-attack. Both batsmen were severe on length or anything short; the good length stuff, they worked off their pads or in front through the V for singles. The interesting thing about the partnership was that both batsmen remained positive, despite the dismal score when they got together; the 52 of their partnership took a mere 57 balls.
England's new ball bowlers, and Freddy Flintoff at first change, managed to get more swing and seam movement than the Kiwis did in the early stages of the game; against that, none of the three had that extra yard of pace to worry Styris and McMillan.
Plunkett, in particular, looks a misfit in the role of opening bowler - he is more a support act, and his lack of pace cost England 24 inside a first spell of four overs.
With the run rate a healthy 4.84, Vaughan delayed the third power play and turned to Monty Panesar as a containing option. The move worked better than the captain anticipated - the second ball from the left arm spinner was pitched leg and turning; McMillan threw all he had at it and spooned the intended cover drive high. It was Dalrymple's turn to take one of those tough outfield chances on the run, with the ball dropping over his shoulder (27/34; 72/4).
Of all the wickets the Kiwis gave away, this was the most careless - and potentially crucial. McMillan was batting like an angel, untroubled by swing, seam and bounce; his timing was impeccable; he seemed, till that rush of blood claimed him, capable of carrying his team past the finish line unaided.
Jacob Oram, who is more at home in the role of the blithe spirit who comes in towards the close and thumps the ball around, was ill at ease in the new role of innings-repairer. Flintoff went around the wicket and Vaughan put a man in his eyeline, almost on the pitch at a very short mid on, to play on his nerves.
Styris pulled in his horns and seemed intent on batting through; Oram took to controlled sweeps at Panesar. Unused to being shackled, he came down in the 24th over, and eased Panesar over the wide long on boundary for the first six of the Kiwi chase.
At the halfway stage, the two had got the game to a fine balance. England after 25 had made 85/3; New Zealand at the halfway mark is 119/4: 34 runs ahead, one wicket extra down. Those figures don't really matter anyway - the key bit here is that the Kiwis know exactly what they need to do in the second half of the innings - and the ask is an undemanding 93, with six wickets in hand, off 25 overs at a mere 3.67.
Simply put, bat out the overs, and the Kiwis just can't lose.
Check out this sequence: Panesar bowled the 24th over; Dalrymple the 25th; Anderson the 26th; Collingwood the 27th; Anderson the 28th; Panesar, from the other end, the 29th; Flintoff the 30th.
Clearly, Michael Vaughan knew England badly needed a wicket or three; as clearly, he didn't know who could give him the breakthrough - unlike Fleming, who can always turn to Bond to do the job for him.
That lack, plus the fact that he didn't have enough runs to play with, made the second half of the Kiwi innings an exercise in the academic.
Styris and Oram read the situation perfectly; with an ask rate under 3.5, they merely needed to bat through to win. Both hunkered down to the job beautifully, and with the England attack defanged by the lack of close catchers, the Kiwis slipped into cruise mode.
The real pressure on England was the pace of the Kiwi innings. Though Oram and Styris were looking to bat through, they jumped on every possible scoring opportunity with vigor; the second 100 of the New Zealand innings came off just 107 deliveries. The ask rate, at the end of 30 overs (145/4) was 3.25; at the time, the Kiwis were scoring at 4.81. That kind of thing, when defending a small target, can put tremendous pressure on the bowling side.
England had a glimmer of a chance when, in the 31st over, Panesar tossed up a challenge around Styris' off stump. The batsman drove without getting to the pitch, the turn found the thick outer edge and Pietersen, placed at short cover precisely for that error, got both hands to the chance and grassed it (Styris 62/88 at the time; New Zealand 150/4).
From then on, Styris and Oram played it by the book - when the field was spread, the two batsmen chipped bits off the target with singles; when Vaughan tried bringing the field in, they found the boundaries with almost contemptuous ease. Oram impressed even more than the fluent Styris, in that he had to bat against his natural free-stroking grain, and made a good fist of it.
The win came with six wickets, and 9 overs, to spare; England were clearly at least 50 runs shy of what could have been a fighting total.
For New Zealand, the immediate gain is obvious: like the West Indies, they go into the Super Eights with a win, and two points, under their belt.
Team-wise, the Kiwis look comfortably the better of the two sides. Styris and McMillan are obviously in good touch; they have the likes of Fleming and Vincent, both capable of good displays. Jacob Oram does a man-sized job with bat and ball; the bowling looks well rounded with good men manning the pace and spin departments, and Styris doing a creditable job as the batting all-rounder (his 7-0-25-2 today is the second most effective, and economical, spell after Bond).
England has more problems than solutions. Pietersen has come back nicely from injury, which is a very big plus. Against that, the team appears undecided between Joyce and Strauss in the opener's slot; Collingwood and Bell need to come to the party, and most crucially, England also desperately needs Flintoff to come good with the bat.
England's biggest problem though is with the ball: on the evidence of today, it doesn't have a bowler capable of scything through the opposing top order, or taking the ball mid-innings and providing a breakthrough or two to break up the opposition's momentum. And without a strike bowler, preferably two, you just can't progress too far in a competition of this kind.The Cup: Complete Coverage
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