On a glorious summer’s day in Chester-le-Street, a capacity crowd saw England ease to victory against New Zealand to qualify for the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup even after a scare late in the first innings opened the door for a shock Kiwi chase.
With an unchanged team from Sunday’s victory over India donning their (not so) quintessentially English sky-blue kits, England came out of the traps flying as an opening partnership of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow took 44 runs from the first five overs and then, after taking 33 more from the next five, equalled their highest score from an opening powerplay at this World Cup (67-0).
It was the start England needed, too, as a win would guarantee safe passage to the semi-finals which, though it would be for the first time since they finished as runners-up seven tournaments ago, was the minimum expectation going into the tournament.
Despite the best efforts of New Zealand’s bowlers, messrs Bairstow and Roy were in mercurial form, driving through gaps in the field with power and precision for four after four; after just over an hour they had secured their third consecutive century partnership and would reach 123 before Roy chipped a catch to Mitchell Santner at short extra-cover in the nineteenth over.
Joe Root took Roy’s place and it seemed like it was business as usual as far as England were concerned. Bairstow had surged to a second successive century by the thirtieth over, but the Kiwis suddenly threw a spanner in the works as they took three wickets from 26 balls mid-innings.
First, Root edged a high ball into the grateful clutches of wicketkeeper Tom Latham before hundred hero Bairstow was bowled out, via the inside edge of his bat, by Henry for 106. Root’s replacement, Jos Buttler, had been moved up the batting order to help England regain control of the match but to no avail – he, as well as Durham’s Ben Stokes, headed for the pavilion after just 11 runs.
Come the end of England’s innings, New Zealand had taken three more wickets with Eoin Morgan, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid all bowing out with fairly meagre run totals, the former to a superb backwards leap catch from Santner at cover.
Nevertheless, though they looked set for a far greater score at the halfway stage of the game, England will have been pleased to end on 305-8 and confident in their ability to defend it, especially given the Kiwis’ far from illustrious batting in the tournament so far and that only Bangladesh (in their 322-3 victory over the West Indies) had managed to chase down a margin of 250 runs or more during the current World Cup.
Such confidence bristled through the team and soon spread to an initially nervous crowd as England started bowling in the same way they had started batting – with fierce and immediate success; Chris Woakes bowled Henry Nicholls out for leg before wicket in the very first over before wicketkeeper Jos Buttler dived to his left-hand side to catch Martin Guptill in the fifth.
The tie was not out of New Zealand’s reach, however, and captain Kane Williamson and dangerman Ross Taylor notched up fifty runs with some powerful drives and handsome strokes to the boundary, thus keeping the England supporters’ fingernails well-bitten to say the least, before a stroke of luck stopped the Kiwi train well in its tracks.
As the aforementioned Taylor drove a Mark Wood delivery towards the Finchale End, Wood stuck out a hand in an attempt to catch the ball. Although he didn’t catch it, the ball glanced off his finger and onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end, running out an out of ground Williamson.
Then, in the sixteenth over, Taylor was out. In desperate need of runs, he dashed for a daring second after his flick towards fine leg fell short of the boundary. Rashid threw the ball for Buttler at the wickets and Taylor, despite a last-second dive, was on his way.
The Kiwis threatened to rebuild yet again as James Neesham and Tom Latham came close to another half-century partnership and were on 123-4 before two wickets were taken in quick succession.
Neesham first chopped his stumps in the twenty-fifth over and then Colin de Grandhomme, his replacement, whipped a Stokes ball to Root at deep square leg for an easy catch. New Zealand were on 128-6 as the tie sped towards a conclusion.
Although Latham and Santner didn’t follow suit for thirteen and fourteen overs respectively, the Kiwis had had only gained a further 38 runs and were on 166-8 by the time the latter fell to lbw. After Wood, who plays county cricket for Durham, took his third wicket of the game to bring England to the brink of the semi-finals, Buttler stumped Trent Boult and New Zealand were all out for 186.
This was a superb, professional performance from England which, particularly during Bairstow and Roy’s sensational batting and at the start of the second innings, bordered on the sublime at times and secured their first World Cup victory over New Zealand since 1983.
It also ensured England reached the World Cup semis for the first time since 1992, where they will next week play one of India, Australia and New Zealand or Pakistan (owing to their considerably inferior net run rate, Pakistan will need to score 400 runs and bowl Bangladesh out within 14 overs when the two teams play tomorrow to qualify – a highly unlikely prospect which all but guarantees New Zealand’s place).
Photograph: Nick Boalch via Wikimedia Commons