New Zealand scrape home
New Zealand continued their recent renaissance with a dramatic victory over England in the fourth match of the NatWest Series at the Brit Oval.
Beaten convincingly in the Tests, thumped in the Twenty20 encounter and comfortably second best in the opening game of this one-day series, the Kiwis’ tour appeared to be lurching from bad to worse.
But they responded by having the better of a washed-out encounter at Edgbaston before winning in Bristol on Tuesday, and they followed that up with a one-wicket win off the last ball today to take a 2-1 lead with one match to play.
In a thrilling encounter that saw tensions flare late on when Grant Elliott was run out following a collision with Ryan Sidebottom, New Zealand scraped home as the sun set on a packed crowd in London as well as England’s chances of winning the NatWest Series.
If Elliott was the victim in an unfortunate incident for which England captain Paul Collingwood later apologised, Scott Styris, Kyle Mills and Mark Gillespie were New Zealand’s heroes with the bat.
Styris contributed 69 to New Zealand’s successful pursuit of 246, while Mills hit an unbeaten 25, sharing an unbroken stand of 13 for the last wicket with Gillespie, who hit the two runs required off the last ball, bowled by Luke Wright, courtesy of an overthrow.
It was a sensational climax to a game which built to a magnificent crescendo, and it seems a shame that Elliott’s dismissal deflected attention from what was an absorbing contest throughout.
The pivotal moment came with 26 needed off 39 balls. Elliott dropped the ball into the off side and set off in search of single, and Sidebottom, in attempting to field it, collided accidentally with the batsman, leaving both players on the turf.
Kevin Pietersen removed the bails at the non-striker’s end with Elliott well short of his ground, and umpire Mark Benson upheld England’s appeal for a run-out, much to the batsman’s and New Zealand’s displeasure.
Though Ian Bell accounted for Tim Southee with a direct hit - the fifth run-out of the match - to raise England’s hopes of a remarkable win, Mills’ late hitting left New Zealand needing 12 runs off the last two overs, and three off the last.
He managed one off the first ball and Gillespie failed to score off the next four, but they scampered two as Graeme Swann’s shy from cover missed at the non-striker’s end and the England fielders failed to back up the throw.
Styris’ far from chanceless half-century - he was dropped three times - helped New Zealand recover from 23 for two and 106 for four, and earned him the man-of-the-match award.
He shared a rapid stand of 67 with Jacob Oram for the fifth wicket, Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah having performed a similar feat for England before they were bowled out for 245.
Bopara hit 58 off 78 balls and Shah an equally important 63 off 71, their stand of 75 for the fifth wicket forming the centrepiece of an England innings that was punctuated by the loss of regular, and untimely, wickets.
While Bell swatted a free hit off Gillespie over point for six in the fourth over, Wright struggled for fluency before drilling Mills to short midwicket, where Ross Taylor took a sensational one-handed catch to his right at head height.
Pietersen perished moments later, the victim of an ill-advised pull off Gillespie that spiralled off the toe of the bat.
Bopara found scoring more difficult than Bell - he edged his first ball wide of second slip and was twice hit on the helmet by Southee - and his task was made all the more difficult when he saw Bell and Collingwood succumb in the space of four overs.
A hint of extra bounce did for Bell, who edged behind as he attempted to steer Southee to third man, and the same bowler pegged back Collingwood’s middle stump via a thick inside edge.
Shah and Bopara rallied in style. Both batsmen combined astute placement with an increasingly varied array of strokes, Bopara particularly impressive through the cover region while Shah held his pose gloriously after driving Daniel Vettori back over his head for six.
Although Gillespie struck with his second delivery back to account for Bopara, caught at mid-on, his next over cost 13 as Shah opened his shoulders further en route to a 63-ball half-century containing two sixes and three fours.
New Zealand refused to let England break free, though, Oram having Tim Ambrose taken at deep midwicket before Swann sliced Mills to backward point.
An almost identical stroke brought about Stuart Broad’s downfall, Shah having been run out by Gillespie’s direct hit from long-off. Anderson also failed to make his ground as England were bowled out with two balls unused.
Sidebottom, returning to the England team at the expense of Chris Tremlett after missing Saturday’s defeat with a stiff back, landed two early blows with the ball.
Brendon McCullum succumbed chasing a wide, full delivery and Taylor top-edged a premeditated mow across the line.
Styris was put down by Shah at second slip, a diving Collingwood at backward point and Broad in his follow-through before he had passed 30, reprieves which allowed him to add 60 for the third wicket with Jamie How.
Swann induced a leading edge from How as he attempted to work the final ball of the off-spinner’s first over to leg, and Daniel Flynn skied a sweep to midwicket to leave New Zealand tottering on 106 for four.
The powerful Oram made light of what would have been a nervy situation for many players by hitting 38 off just 30 deliveries, only to hook Anderson to deep backward square-leg.
Styris, who had earlier brought up a 60-ball fifty, was run out by Swann from third man, and Vettori’s dismissal for six - well held by a diving Bopara at midwicket off Collingwood - heightened the nerves of both sides.
Tensions rose even further following Elliott’s departure for a valuable 24, but Mills and Gillespie saw their side home in the most enthralling of finishes.