At least in the one day series we get the decider that all that has gone before merits. And given how this sequence of games has gone, who knows what will happen.
England will of course be praised heavily for an astonishing run chase, exceeded in terms of runs only four times in history. But it was more than that, it was that England plainly could have chased down another 50, 75, or even 100. They were that in control they had 7 overs and 7 wickets still in hand.
It’s not so long ago that New Zealand setting 350 to win would have made the second half of the game academic, and by not too long ago, we can say about 10 days. The turnaround has been astounding; not the turnaround in results, it is 2-2 after all, but in attitude and approach.
Amid the delight at seeing England play like this, it cannot be overlooked how much of an indictment this been of various previous managements of the England team. Peter Moores will certainly be shifting uncomfortably at what he’s seeing (in truth, given that he’s that kind of man, he’ll probably be absolutely delighted because it’s England), but it isn’t and shouldn’t all be laid on his shoulders. One day cricket has been like this for a number of years, and at no point until this series have England even attempted to play this way. A whole bunch of them should be looking at themselves in the mirror. And not just coaches either, the people above them, the selectors, some of the players, all of them carry the responsibility for the wasted years of trying to get just enough and hoping it will do.
Alastair Cook led that side, and led it in a way incompatible with how the game is now played. It is completely inconceivable that England would be playing in this style under him. Throughout the build up to the World Cup, those who pointed this out on a regular basis were dismissed as know-nothings, bilious inadequates, fools and knaves – even anti-England. But they were right. They were absolutely, incontrovertibly right. An acknowledgement from the self-appointed great and good of that reality wouldn’t go amiss, and nor would a realisation that maybe, just maybe that even if you don’t agree with them, they have an opinion which has value.
I’m not going to hold my breath it’ll ever happen.
By way of contrast, some credit has to be given to those selectors who insisted on retaining Eoin Morgan, when he was in a dreadful run of form, and many were calling for his head. They backed him, and to the surprise of many, re-appointed him as one day captain. You see, when credit is due, it is given. Another thing for them to learn.
In amongst the pleasure at seeing England play like this, there cannot but be a feeling of anger at the missed opportunity the World Cup represented. These players are by and large the ones that were called for, to give England a chance of competing. They haven’t suddenly become a great side, and there will still be ups and downs ahead. The point is that allowing the team to have a chance was the thing. They didn’t give England a prayer. And that is not acceptable on any level.
During the World Cup, some people went as far as hoping England would lose. Some people? By the end I suspect it was a lot of people. They didn’t do so because they liked seeing England get hammered, they did so out of despair that anyone would actually get out of their stubborn, ignorant, antiquated mindset and pay attention to what was going on in the world game. This change is precisely because the World Cup was such a shambles, that it shocked even the ECB out of their complacency.
It remains to be seen whether Morgan’s clear desire that England continue to play without fear survives the inclination to conservatism that remains. Today England set about the target with furious, but controlled aggression. It’s only a few days since England were bowled out for 302 batting first and the conservative sirens were telling them that if only they’d been more restrained, they’d have got 340. Their attitudes are obselete.
In defeat, New Zealand once again showed themselves to be a class act. When Morgan was dismissed they were quick to congratulate him, likewise Root at the end of the game. Perhaps the most thoughtful, kindest and most considerate action was at the conclusion of the match. It was Steve Davis’ final game as an international umpire, and to remember that and invite him to lead the New Zealand team off the pitch said a lot about how they play the game.
England were magnificent today. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that. Long may they give themselves the chance to be magnificent – even if they sometimes fall short.