The introduction of Twenty20 cricket has made batsmen realise just how many runs can be scored in a limited-over match, whether its duration be 20, 40 or 50 overs. The recognition is the principal reason England and New Zealand shared 680 runs here yesterday in a thrilling one-day game. Five or six years ago the team batting second would never have dreamt about chasing down 340, yet with six overs of the game remaining New Zealand were coasting to victory.
The strokeplay and eventual drama, which culminated in Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills desperately scampering a single off the final ball to tie the match, provided spectators with wonderful entertainment. England could even have won had a diving Paul Collingwood hit the stumps from close range to effect a run out. Luke Wright, summoned to bowl the final over by his captain Collingwood with the Black Caps requiring just seven to win, was the bowling hero. It was Wright's first over of the game and he held his nerve to give England the chance of drawing level in the five-match series in Christchurch on Saturday.
Many cricket fans believe that the greater the volume of runs scored, the greater the entertainment. If it is the case they should be happy because the average score in one-day cricket continues to rise. But, unfortunately, there is a downside to this arrangement. Prior to Twenty20 bowlers took pride in their economy rates but the one-sided nature of the contest between bat and ball is almost absolving them of their responsibility to be frugal. Circumstance appears to have given them an excuse to leak six or seven runs an over, which captains and selectors seem happy to accept.
On a pristine batting surface with short boundaries square of the wicket the bowlers were always going to find it tough at McLean Park. The batting was magnificent, too, with Jamie How's superb 139 being the innings of the day. Phil Mustard was almost as impressive, scoring 83 exciting runs, as was Paul Collingwood, who struck the fastest half-century by an England player off just 24 balls. Collingwood hit six sixes in his innings, all in to the Harris Stand at square leg. Kevin Pietersen, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and How smashed sixes in to the highly populated stand, too.
But the quality of bowling, with the notable exception of the admirable Ryan Sidebottom, was poor. The safest place on the pitch was on a good length on the line of off stump. Taking wickets is important but not at any cost, and the most used way of trying to claim one was by bowling a bouncer. The yorker, until the end of New Zealand's innings, seemd to have gone the way of the dodo.
Despite failing to defend 340 it is England who travel to Christchurch with their spirits high. With six overs remaining New Zealand needed 40 runs with seven wickets in hand. It was then that Scott Styris irresponsibly slogged Sidebottom to James Anderson at long-on. The wicket brought England back in to the game.
"I cannot believe the ball missed," said Collingwood when asked how close he had come to winning the game. "With six overs to go we were dead and buried, so we are pretty pleased to get a tie. In the last six overs we stepped it up, and when the pressure was really on we showed our character.
"Luke Wright did not have to bowl because I miscalculated the overs. I knew we were going to be one over short but I saved Luke until last because I wanted to take the game in to the last over because anything can happen then. I told Wrighty with four overs to go that he would be bowling it. He has bowled yorkers well in practice games and in the nets but it was a gamble.
"I told him he could be our hero and to enjoy it. He said he couldn't wait and when I told him to bowl yorkers he said 'at which stump?' It showed his character. He loves the big stage and he nailed that over. I suppose a tie was the fair result."
Vettori, the New Zealand captain, was less pleased. "It feels like a loss because it was a game we should have comfortably won from the position we put ourselves in," said the New Zealand captain. "We just threw it away in the last six overs and were lucky to get a tie in the end. From a spectacle point of view though, people must have loved watching it."
l England were fined for their slow over-rate during yesterday's match after they were found to be two overs behind their allocation. Collingwood was fined 20 per cent of his match fee, with the rest of the team fined 10 per cent of theirs.