England have qualified for the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. They were kept waiting for most of the day in Cardiff as rain threatened to decide their fate in the competition.
But it stopped in the nick of time and the host nation won a contest reduced to 24 overs per side by 10 runs. It was an emphatic victory which looked improbable when England mucked up their innings by losing their last seven wickets in the blink of an eye.
Alastair Cook’s innings of 64, his highest one-day score of the summer, eventually proved to be the crucial contribution. Although he was dropped three times he tailored the pace and style perfectly.
For the first time in a one-day innings he hit two sixes and there was, lo and behold, a paddle shot to savour. The wonder of this was not that he executed it well but that he executed it at all.
Kane Williamson’s battling 67 in New Zealand’s reply was ended just as it seemed he might have given his side belated reason to hope. But they were always behind the required rate and simply had too much to do at the end.
England’s bowling, of which the team management was mildly critical when they lost to Sri Lanka last Thursday, was masterly and clinical when it mattered. Nor was there any hint of a repeat of the allegations of ball tampering which emerged after that match but have given no official credence whatever.
It was a largely subdued performance by New Zealand, who are now almost certainly out of the tournament unless Australia beat Sri Lanka today by a margin that does not amend the net run rates. In bowling out England for 169 with three balls unused they must have sensed they had a genuine chance.
Early wickets were precisely what England needed. They came courtesy of Jimmy Anderson in the fourth over. He ensured that Luke Ronchi’s miserable start to his New Zealand career continued when a hopelessly diffident innings was terminated with a forlorn slog that sailed into third man Jonathan Trott’s hands, and then dismissed Martin Guptill two balls later.
When Tim Bresnan won an lbw appeal against Ross Taylor, the sort where the umpire virtually books in to a hotel overnight to consider his verdict, England had shifted from marginal outsiders to overwhelming favourites.
Brendon McCullum, whose buccaneering strokeplay has been absent throughout his time in England this summer, failed again, though it took a splendid catch by Joe Root, diving forward on the square leg boundary, to despatch him this time. Williamson and the debutant Corey Anderson put on 73 from 47 balls for the sixth wicket, but thrilling though it was the match was already beyond them.
In mucking up their innings, England stuck more or less to the tried and tested. A long history in one-day cricket of trepidation at the idea of experimentation was not about to be changed now. Despite a shortened match they kept to the usual batting order, resisting any urge to put the sluggers in at the top.
As it happened, Cook went merrily along at well above a run a ball, aided and abetted by the profligacy of New Zealand in general, Nathan McCullum in particular. But he was given three lives, on 14, 37 and 45, twice at mid-wicket, once at point, all eminently catchable and on each occasion by the older McCullum.
Only sibling affection can have prevented a severe wigging by his brother and captain, Brendon. Yet Nathan ended the innings in credit since he took four catches – including Cook’s eventual scalp off his own bowling – which may be the first time that a fielder’s balance sheet has read 4-3.
Otherwise, it might be said, Cook was flawless. It was as well these lapses went unpunished because England lost two early wickets. After a cracking start, Ian Bell thwacked a ball hard but carelessly straight to short extra cover. The scene of Bell shaking his head, aghast at his error, has been re-enacted many times down the years.
When Trott clipped to mid-wicket they needed a period of consolidation which Cook and Root managed. Root pulled a six into the stands but spent most of his time finding gaps and running his singles sharply.
They put on 75 from 66 balls and it seemed to augur well for the big hitters at five, six and seven.
The whole game plan is based on one of the trio of Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara and Jos Buttler going big. None of them did.
In a flurry of attacking shots, eventually accompanied by panic at the prospect of falling short of the target they had in mind, England provided outfield catching practice and allowed the older McCullum to achieve redemption.
They lost their last seven wickets for 28 runs, their last five for ten, their last three for 0, that whole little collapse spanning 24 balls.