There is more than one way to lodge a score of 300-plus in a one-day international. You can dash there with a state of delirium, as England did, staying true to a spirit of devil may care. Or you can chase it down with ease, as New Zealand did in response, displaying not excitement but merely the composure that grows from two centuries of draining authority.
By the time that Kane Williamson and Brendon Taylor’s third-wicket partnership was broken, they had added 206 in 32 overs and New Zealand’s last seven wickets needed only 61 from 67 balls, the platform for what ultimately became a slightly edgy victory by three wickets with six balls to spare – a win which gave them a 2-1 lead in this five-match series.
Taylor – after his century at the Kia Oval – achieved back-to-back ODI hundreds for the third time in his career. The pair also set a new benchmark in ODI’s for New Zealand’s third wicket, surpassing Geoff Howarth and Martin Crowe in Auckland in 1984.
Williamson could probably bungee jump without any measurable rise in his heartbeat or blood pressure. Few international batsmen proceed with such equanimity; he picked off Adil Rashid’s leg spin – a player he knows well from his time at Yorkshire – with aplomb. Taylor’s classy strokeplay provided a perfect accompaniment.
England, who for long periods looked resigned to their fate as the Ageas Bowl produced the latest in a succession of excellent batting surfaces, will be left to rue a calamitous end to their innings in which their last five wickets tumbled for 14 in 22 balls. Conservatism does not enter England’s thinking at the moment as they try to reinvent themselves in a more attacking guise, but it was only with nine wickets down that they belatedly nodded to the virtue of batting out their overs and 28 deliveries went unused when the last man, Steven Finn, was cleaned up by Tim Southee. Those wasted 28 deliveries proved hugely influential.
There were four dropped catches too, catches that might well have turned the game. Taylor escaped twice in successive overs from Mark Wood, firstly on 67 when Jos Buttler might have gone two handed to his right in an attempt to take a catch well within range, and again on 72 when Ben Stokes could not hold a fierce pull, relatively close in at square leg.
Wood, fresh again after feeling the effect of back-to-back Tests, often surpassed 90mph and was the likeliest England bowler on view. His return of 1 for 48 is the most economical so far in a series where batsmen have prospered extravagantly.
Williamson was also dropped on 109, this time Wood the culprit at mid-off as he drove at David Willey. In Willey’s next over, the 200 partnership was raised, Williamson planted a six down the ground and finally England broke through when Wood this time leapt well at mid-off to hold the catch. Taylor got New Zealand within 13 runs of victory before he fell for 110, dragging Willey onto his stumps. It proved close enough.
Earlier, Stokes had been in his most intimidating batting form for England, muscling England past 300 for the third successive match – unparallelled in their one-day history. There will be no more muscular shot all summer than Stokes’ strong-arm heave of Mitchell McClenaghan towards the midwicket burger vans. At a commanding 288 for 5 with 50 balls remaining, England had visions of 370.
When Sam Billings’ innovative 34 came to grief, and Adil Rashid fell first ball, Stokes was in no mood to recognise a few complications, still seeking to be the King of the Swingers, the jungle VIP. He was bowled for 68 as he stepped away to batter Ben Wheeler to oblivion and David Willey, in his second ODI, and fresh from a productive release to his county, Northamptonshire, in the NatWest T20 Blast, also fell with what by then felt like naïve attacking intent. “Ooh-bi-do, I wanna be like you.” Not this time.
Instead, New Zealand’s pace attack had fought back strongly, with Wheeler returning a creditable 3 for 63 on debut, adding Stokes and Billings to his first-up wicket of Alex Hales.
It was a bowlers’ day – at least it used to be. Overcast skies were not quite enough to persuade Eoin Morgan to field first, not with 1369 runs logged in the first two matches, batsmen on both sides feeling a million dollars and bowlers reduced as emphatically as they ever have been to the ranks of the poor bloody infantry.
There was swing for New Zealand in the first hour, and some bounce too, and they made decent use of it by removing both England openers, Alex Hales and Jason Roy, cheaply. England’s new-ball attack responded in kind, in less encouraging conditions, later in the day.
Wheeler was presented with his debut cap before play by his fellow left-armer Trent Boult, ruled out of the series with a stress-related back condition. Boult’s part in the ceremony was appropriate because Wheeler is very much Boult Lite, finding some serene inswing.
Morgan cut a somewhat impotent figure in the World Cup, a captain unable to stamp his imprint on the side. His 71 as the sun burned the clouds away was an innings from a captain who now has a sense of purpose. Add Joe Root’s crisp half-century and England’s third-wicket alliance was a productive one – 105 in 19 overs – before Santner cramped Root as he made room to leg and bowled him off his pads.
Santner, heavily punished in the first two matches, but more resourceful here, also might have dismissed Morgan, first when he outwitted him down the leg side but the stumping was missed and again when he failed to cling to a low return chance to his left. Instead, it was Williamson who revived memories of his golden-arm display on the final day of the Headingley Test, defeating Morgan’s slog sweep and setting up the opportunity for the drainingly calm batting performance to follow.