Luke Wright was about to repeat Andrew Flintoff's memorable celebrations in Chennai in 2001 after he had bowled the final ball of Wednesday's thrilling one-dayer against New Zealand in Napier. From 22 yards away he believed that he had bowled the Black Caps captain, Daniel Vettori, to give his side an unexpected and remarkable victory. But the ball failed to sneak through Vettori's guard, preventing the Sussex all-rounder from removing his shirt and doing an unaccompanied topless lap of honour.
"I thought I had bowled Vettori," said Wright prior to England travelling here for tomorrow's fifth and final one-day international. "I thought the leg stump had gone, so I was off celebrating. I was halfway between taking off my shirt and doing a Freddie. The next thing, I looked up and we nearly had the run out, so I was a actually a bit disappointed to see it end in a tie."
Bowling the final over in a tight game is a responsibility often given to Flintoff and Wright, if he were to grow five inches, would have the potential to be a Flintoff type figure. The 22-year-old gives the ball an almighty clout, but a lack of height – he is only 6ft – means that his bowling is never likely to be as threatening.
Chasing 341 for victory, New Zealand needed seven runs off the final over when Paul Collingwood invited Wright, the most inexperienced member of the side, to bowl. But rather than lose his nerve he bowled a magnificent set of yorkers to deprive the Black Caps of the win that would have given them an unassailable 3-1 lead.
"I had mixed emotions when I was asked to bowl," he said. "I was pretty excited as well as being nervous. In a way the pressure was probably off me – not many people were expecting me to do it, but I thought it was a chance to gain rather than lose something."
After coping with a nerve-racking situation so expertly, Wright would be forgiven for thinking that he would be an automatic choice for tomorrow's decider, but that is not the case. England performances have improved significantly in the last two one-day matches but the balance of the team is not yet right.
In Auckland and Napier, England picked three specialist bowlers – Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson and Stuart Broad – a decision that left Collingwood, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Owais Shah and Wright to bowl 20 overs between them. The tactic would have a reasonable chance of success if Anderson and Broad were consistent performers, but they are not.
Both are capable of producing match-winning displays, as they did in Auckland when their 20 overs claimed 5 for 73. In Napier, the combined figures for the pair was 3 for 161. Such inconsistency leaves the captain vulnerable, especially when he has only one reliable bowler – Sidebottom. Collingwood, Mascarenhas and Wright, all right-arm medium pacers, are at best fifth bowlers.
A captain needs to be able to change the pace of the game and challenge batsmen in different ways, and to achieve this he requires a bowling attack offering variety. It was this desire that resulted in Collingwood bowling Shah for seven overs in Napier.
The predicament means that Graeme Swann should have an excellent chance of playing tomorrow. His presence would weaken the batting slightly, but how many batsmen do a side want? If the team bat well, as they did in Napier, those coming in at No 7 and 8 will have only a limited role to play.
Mascarenhas or Wright would make way for Swann. Mascarenhas is a favourite here but England bat Wright ahead of him. In their eyes Wright is the better and more destructive batsman. He was also asked to bowl the final over two days ago. Wright is the man England turn to first and he should play ahead of Mascarenhas.
New Zealand may consider making two changes. Peter Fulton is in wretched form and Daniel Flynn may replace him. There could be an extra spinner too, with Jeetan Patel replacing Iain O'Brien. Another ground with small boundaries may encourage each captain to be cautious, but a little gamble, as Collingwood made with Wright, can bring the outcome a team want.
Flintoff rules out IPL deal for English players
Andrew Flintoff believes the Indian Premier League is not an option for English players because of county and international commitments.
The all-rounder is currently with the England Lions team in India, where some of the world's leading players were auctioned off to the highest bidding franchises on Wednesday for the new IPL.
"It's not an option for the English players since we tour during the winter and play county cricket during the summer," he said. "Lancashire and the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] have looked after me well and my concern is to get on the field for them."
Flintoff, who is coming back from a fourth operation on his left ankle, missed the Lions' two-wicket defeat to Maharashtra in Mumbai yesterday with a stomach bug.
Angus Fraser's teams
For the fifth and final one-day international in Christchurch tomorrow (starts 1.0am GMT).
England P D Collingwood (capt), A N Cook, P Mustard (wkt), I R Bell, K P Pietersen, O A Shah, L J Wright, G P Swann, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, J M Anderson.
New Zealand D L Vettori (capt), J D Ryder, B B McCullum (wkt), J M How, R L Taylor, S B Styris, D Flynn, J D P Oram, K D Mills, J S Patel, C S Martin.Reuse content