Seamers undermine England
England’s hopes of carrying an unbeaten record into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy were ended by a blistering New Zealand bowling display at the Wanderers.
The Black Caps ruthlessly exploited seamer-friendly conditions to bowl England out for a meagre 146, before Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill wrought similar damage with the bat en route to a thumping four-wicket win.
England were unable to cope with a vibrant seam attack on a cracked pitch offering appreciable sideways movement and worryingly variable bounce, but any complaints they may had about a surface some way short of international standard lost credence as they allowed New Zealand to romp home with almost 23 overs to spare.
The alacrity with which they wrapped up victory ensured they finished top of Group B, leaving England to contest the first semi-final on Friday against the winners of tomorrow’s clash between Pakistan and Australia. The only consolation for Andrew Strauss and company is that the game will not be played at this venue.
No England bowler - including Stuart Broad, despite his four wickets when defeat was all but confirmed - was spared punishment as McCullum smashed 48 off 39 deliveries and Guptill 53 off 55.
However, the foundations for New Zealand’s triumph had been laid with the ball.
If Shane Bond set the tone with two early wickets en route to figures of 3-21, and Kyle Mills conceded just 19 runs off 10 overs, the bulk of the damage was done by Grant Elliott, whose medium-pacers brought him 4-31 from eight devastating overs.
England never recovered from losing their top three inside the first six overs, with Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara, who made 40 and 30 respectively, the only batsmen to supply anything resembling sustained resistance until Ryan Sidebottom hit 20 in a defiant last-wicket stand with James Anderson.
Captain Daniel Vettori’s decision to insert England was vindicated as early as the second ball, when Strauss was undone by Kyle Mills’ extra bounce and caught behind via a faint outside edge.
Joe Denly was beaten by a delivery from Bond which swung back viciously between bat and pad to rip out off stump, and when Owais Shah - fresh from a man-of-the-match 98 in Sunday’s win over South Africa, which secured England’s place in the semi-finals - was caught behind aiming a wholly inappropriate heave across the line at Bond, England were reeling on 13 for three.
Their plight would have been even worse had Collingwood been given run out for 14. Having evaded a Mills bouncer off the last ball of the 11th over, Collingwood set off for the usual mid-pitch meeting with his batting partner, Eoin Morgan.
However, wicketkeeper McCullum’s throw hit the stumps with Collingwood out of his ground, sparking a lengthy debate between batsmen, fielders and umpires which seemed to centre around whether Daryl Harper had called "over" and, if so, whether the players heard his call.
The upshot was Vettori withdrawing New Zealand’s appeal, a shake of hands with Collingwood, and England’s third-wicket partnership remaining intact.
Collingwood was the chief aggressor in that stand of 37 with Morgan which featured pulled sixes over backward square-leg at Bond and James Franklin’s expense.
But England’s recovery was checked by the loss of Morgan, whose edged square-cut off Ian Butler was pouched by a diving Ross Taylor at slip after McCullum had palmed the ball over his head. Having made a sensational 67 off 34 balls against South Africa, Morgan managed just nine off 40 today.
If Bopara was under any illusions over the state of the pitch, he was left in little doubt after being struck on the finger first ball by Elliott.
He saw Collingwood lift Franklin over wide long-on for another six, and managed a boundary of his own from a free hit before Collingwood’s miscued pull off Elliott was well held one-handed by a leaping Taylor at midwicket.
It was the first of four wickets in succession for Elliott, whose nagging line and ability to extract movement off the seam were ideally suited to a pitch which at times made batting a perilous proposition.
He found Luke Wright's edge with a leg-cutter, a smart low return catch accounted for Stuart Broad, and Swann top-edged a pull to McCullum.
Bond capped a fine performance of his own by trapping Bopara lbw with a delivery which barely got off the ground, and Sidebottom and Anderson's stand of 29 merely carried England closer to respectability.
Despite knowing victory in as many as 44.3 overs would guarantee top spot in the group, New Zealand set about the pursuit with considerable impatience.
Led by McCullum, who smashed Sidebottom for meaty fours either side of the wicket before scything Anderson over third man and hooking Broad over fine-leg, the target had been reduced by 66 in 10 overs.
McCullum’s assault finally ended when he skied Broad to cover, but Guptill drove Collingwood into the stand at long-on to take New Zealand into three figures, before bringing up his fifty with an astonishing pull over bowler Broad’s head.
Anderson exacted a measure of found by having Guptill taken at slip by Swann, who then pulled off a sensational catch, diving full length to his right, at second slip to account for Taylor three balls later.
Though Elliott and Gareth Hopkins gloved behind in successive Broad overs, and Neil Broom provided stand-in wicketkeeper Morgan with a third catch of the innings, any doubt over the outcome had long since disappeared.