England’s interminable short-form cricket touring itinerary this winter comes to a close with at least a modicum of interest generated by being the decider in a good old fashioned bilateral series, and with the added bonus of starting at a vaguely sensible time for a UK audience. It can’t be said that the public’s attention has been well and truly grasped, for in truth it comes as something of a relief to know that the round of ODIs and T20s that effectively began in January in Australia is reaching completion. Nevertheless, this could be good.
The last tour of New Zealand was roundly praised for an itinerary that made best use of the different versions of the game – three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests, so naturally given the rare praise due to the respective boards, this time they’ve scrapped that and there are just the two Tests to come. Still, one thing in their favour is that at least the order in which they’re played is correct, with the limited overs matches serving as the hors d’oeuvres for the Tests, rather than being an afterthought in both perception and execution.
Ross Taylor’s masterclass in chasing down a decent (if mildly disappointing given the position they’d got themselves in) England total in the 4th match came at a cost, with him in doubt due to a thigh strain. It’s hard to believe it will keep him out of this one even so.
Jonny Bairstow on the England side batted equally as well, though cynics (who, us?) might have observed that using the form of criticism reserved for a select few, he “started the collapse” with his dismissal at Dunedin. As good an example of the absurdity of that particular line as can be found.
England have the chance to win their sixth bilateral ODI series in succession should they come out on top, a statistic that recognises that England have become a very good limited overs side indeed, while also highlighting the difference in profile to Test cricket, where such an achievement would get far more attention, meritorious as it is.
Still, in its own right this has been an enjoyable match up, sufficiently so that it’s hard to call a winner.
Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth South Africa have had an excellent first day, bowling out Australia for 243 and finishing 39-1 in reply. Given the usual “vital second day” position of the game, some pretty decent cricket watching lies ahead over the next 24 hours.
Match comments below as ever.