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Wright came mighty close

Posted in England in New Zealand 2008

Well after I personally guaranteed a victory in Auckland (well an improved performance - same difference), the series has gone into another gear with run-scoring, catches, and high drama spilling over into the stands.

A captain's innings from Paul Collingwood saw England home in the third ODI at Auckland, after James Anderson and latterly Stuart Broad had decimated the Kiwi top order. Despite a late rally that took New Zealand above 200, a century partnership between Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen steadied the England run-chase, and then Collingwood bustled in with aggressive intent and swatted boundaries through mid-wicket to bring England back into the series.

This strokeplay had nothing on the next meeting, in the art deco town of Napier (watch the exclusive feature on ECBtv now). Collingwood broke the record for the fastest English ODI half-century by reaching his in 24 balls as England racked up 340. The strength of his wrists enabled him to whip six after six into the midwicket stand, sending the Barmy Army into raptures and England into a dominant position.

Phil 'The Colonel' Mustard had previously cracked a career-best 83, and with Cook and Pietersen weighing in with half-centuries and handy runs from Bell and Luke Wright, England looked dead-certs for a series levelling win. That, of course, was the assumption, and you know what they say about the parentage of that said word.

On a wicket flatter than the M25 (on second thoughts...) it quickly became clear that if you missed your length by inches, the white ball would disappear into a sea of beer, bellies and banter. New Zealand were anything but daunted by the run-chase, and with seven overs to go, seven wickets in hand, and a run-a-ball needed, England were without doubt staring down the barrel of certain defeat.

However, Scott Styris made sure the safety was still on as he rather needlessly holed out to Jimmy Anderson at long-on. This chink let in a ray of hope, and with Fulton struggling, the pressure cooker cranked up a notch and the tension rose in the crowd.

So after another couple of wickets, the equation was simple: seven to win off the last six balls, Luke Wright to bowl the match-defining over. The press box was in disbelief, but having known Luke for a few years and seen his progress, I was quietly confident.

It would still be a huge ask, but I knew that he would relish the opportunity. Indeed, Paul Collingwood confirmed this in the post-match press conference. Collingwood said: "I asked him to get the yorkers going, he said 'which stump?'."

Wright didn't quite knock the stumps out, but he came mighty close. Indeed, on a wicket on which it was almost hard not to score boundaries, Luke had the field up and no room for error. He bowled six superb full deliveries, some at yorker length, and forced a run-out off the penultimate ball.

This meant that two runs were required for victory off the last ball of the game. Unbelievable stuff. Another excellent delivery was dug out straight to Collingwood at a short-ish point, and his under-arm diving throw sanded down the stumps to a toothpick but left the bails intact. It was sensational drama. Defeat became victory became a tie.

The players didn't know whether to jump for joy or collapse in despair. It was a little like coming back from three-nil down and missing a penalty in the last minute. You're delighted with the comeback, but if only...

On reflection, it is a massive achievement for this side to find themselves still in the series here in Christchurch as the fifth ODI gets underway. At 2-0 down, the manner of the performances suggested a side empty of confidence. For an inexperienced and young squad to find the character to drive the series to a finale has left Collingwood and Moores in no doubt that there is a future for this side.

This is in stark contrast to my side, as after another strenuous gym session a ridiculous stitch almost sent me flying like a circus sensation off of the running machine and into Otis Gibson. He was busy bench-pressing half of the gym at the time and I doubt whether he would have taken such an interruption kindly.

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