If you were picking a word to encapsulate England’s approach to ODI cricket over the years, you could do worse than choose panic.
Like a bunch of chickens menaced by some particularly aggressive local foxes, it was all too easy to send them scurrying back to the safety of their shed — literally in the case of the batting collapses too numerous to name.
It was not even just with the bat that England’s penchant for panic manifested itself, there were also bowling plans repeatedly prone to completely falling apart at the seams in the face of opposition batsmen.
However, on a day so windy in Cardiff that the advertising boards encircling the ground were repeatedly sent cascading to the floor, England showed that those bad old days might well be long behind them with Eoin Morgan coaxing a performance from his side that was as cool as the icy gusts swirling round the ground.
When Jason Roy went early in their innings there was no major distress, although perhaps if you were being uncharitable you could say England have become used to it recently. Instead Alex Hales and Joe Root set about building yet another big partnership — out of those who’ve played more than 10 innings together, the pair have the highest average batting together of any duo in English ODI history.
This was far from a perfect performance from England, although it is a mark of how far they have come in the last two years that a score of 310 against a good New Zealand bowling attack still felt a little disappointing. However, what was impressive from England was the steadfast determination to keep playing the way they were, an XI of Energiser bunnies instead of rabbits in headlights.
In the past, the cheap dismissals that plagued parts of their innings might well have derailed their entire day — Morgan chasing a wide delivery, Root slain by a Welsh drag-on or Ben Stokes obligingly giving catching practice to third man, there were times when New Zealand looked well on top.
Instead Morgan’s men kept their cool with Jos Buttler combining well with the tail to take England past the score of 300 that has come to be expected whenever they bat first — in the process playing a ludicrous ramp shot for a six straight behind the keeper that nearly brained an unfortunate cameraman.
Even so England’s total felt like it could be a little undercooked, particularly with Kane Williamson at the crease, one of a few men you’d probably trust to bat for your life if the unlikely and worrying circumstances called for it.
With 30 overs bowled and Williamson going strong, taking New Zealand to 158/2, things were starting to look fairly ominous for the home side — but Morgan kept his cool and reintroduced Mark Wood, the Durham man going on to prove exactly why he is now England’s key man with the ball.
Commentating on the game, Graeme Swann revealed that Stuart Broad advocated a healthy smattering of cross-seam deliveries when bowling at Cardiff, his theory being that something mysterious in the make-up of the pitch caused more than a few deliveries to rear up nastily off the deck.
And so it proved, Wood sent down a cross-seamer to Williamson, who looked so well-set at the crease that it was bordering on unfair, the ball leapt dramatically off a length and the Kiwi skipper could only parry it behind to Buttler — a wicket snaffled with calmness under pressure and excellent use of home conditions.
With Williamson gone, New Zealand’s remaining men eventually followed, any threat of resistance quickly snuffed out by a bowling attack that, blessed with varied talents like Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid, is becoming more confident at prising batsmen out whatever the situation.
The win sees England top their group with a game to spare, a rare ODI final now just one win away — a feat that not long ago would have felt almost as alien to their fans as the growing swagger with which their team are now playing the game.
Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:42 AM