On a cool, windy, damp day in Cardiff, England beat New Zealand by a massive 87 runs after dismissing the antipodeans with 33 balls remaining. This result means that England are the first team to qualify for the semi finals, and will also finish at the top of Group A. This is because the first tiebreaker after points is games won, and whilst Australia could potentially match England’s 4 points they couldn’t match their 2 wins.
New Zealand won the toss and chose to field first, perhaps thinking that showers would shorten the game and give an advantage to batting second. The game started cagily, with New Zealand bowling tightly to restrict England’s openers, eventually forcing Jason Roy to take some risks to get the strike rate up. Unfortunately he isn’t in great form and was bowled behind his legs after stepping too far into the off side. From this point to the end of the match followed a very simple pattern: England would score roughly a run a ball, and New Zealand would take regular wickets which stopped England gaining any momentum or accelerating. Fifties from Hales, Root and Buttler helped England reach 310, typically a pretty high target, but somehow it seemed a touch below par.
In the previous game against Bangladesh Jake Ball conceded 81 runs and took 1 wicket, and several people (myself included) wanted him out of the side. Instead he opened the bowling and managed to bowl Ronchi on his fourth ball. This brought in world-class batsman Kane Williamson, who with Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor built a solid foundation for the New Zealand innings and dealt well with a slightly slow pitch, strong winds and a few instances of uneven bounce. After 30 overs, New Zealand were 156/2 and seemingly cruising towards England’s total. It took a cross-seam delivery from Wood which reared up on Williamson and glanced off his glove to dismiss New Zealand’s talisman. From that point, England’s bowlers took a firm grip on the game and never let go. Bowling with impressive economy, the bowlers forced New Zealand’s batsmen to play increasingly risky shots just to keep up with the required run rate. New Zealand finished 87 runs short of their target after their tail collapsed playing big shots with little success.
The notable thing about the second innings for England was that there wasn’t a single weak link in their bowling unit, something which we probably haven’t seen in a while. Each of the 5 bowlers used took at least one wicket, had an economy rate below 6.00 and gave Eoin Morgan no reason to call on either Moeen Ali or Joe Root. In the first time for a few years, I would say that England’s bowling was better than their batting. Jake Ball won Man Of The Match, but the other 4 bowlers had almost equal claims to the title.
With England topping the group, they can potentially rest players in their game against Australia at Edgbaston on Saturday and keep them fresh for their semi final in Cardiff on Wednesday 14th. Alternatively they might not want to disrupt a winning side, which is certainly what New Zealand and Bangladesh will hope for as their future in the competition relies on Australia not winning their final group game. England’s bowling performance in this game will certainly worry the other teams, because if their bowling becomes as strong as their batting has been over the past two years then England might be virtually unbeatable.
On a sidenote, New Zealand finished bowling in the first innings 28 minutes after they were supposed to. This was very close to the 4 hours Sri Lanka took to bowl against South Africa, an over rate which saw Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Upul Tharanga summarily suspended for two games. Several people have commented that Kane Williamson was lucky to escape a similar punishment, as he was given a fine and warning, and it certainly seems to show that banning a captain has not acted as a deterrent for other teams. Hopefully the ICC or MCC will look at other ways of guaranteeing innings finish on time in the future.