England not so much eased as thundered into the World Twenty20 semi-finals last night. From being the team that nobody rated they are suddenly the team everyone fears, thus confirming that a fortnight is an epoch in Twenty20. Governments have been formed in less time.
By the time England played New Zealand in their last Super 8 match their place in the semi-finals had already been confirmed because of South Africa's defeat by Pakistan. But they were also aware that taking their foot off the throttle could have potentially disastrous consequences, in that it can be difficult to locate again when needed.
In the absence of Kevin Pietersen the victory was ensured by Eoin Morgan, as so many have been lately. England had begun to stutter slightly in their pursuit of 150 to win when Morgan walked out to bat at 60 for three which was soon to become 66-4.
But this is a position that he has come to relish – good job really since he is confronted with it so often – and without seeming to rush he serenely guided the side to their third successive victory in the Super 8 group before finally getting underneath a pull – one of his less exotic shots – to be caught at mid-wicket with the match all but won.
There were five balls to spare when Tim Bresnan struck the third four of a rapid cameo of 23 not out from 11 balls to bring victory by three wickets. It added to his one for 20 with the ball, a thoroughly solid performance which rightly earned him the man of the match award. Bresnan has grown into international cricket, he is England's most improved player. Pietersen is expected to return from England in time for the semi-final on Thursday. His wife Jessica gave birthday yesterday to a boy.
Paul Collingwood, England's captain, said: "We've put a lot of hard work into all our limited overs cricket overs the past 18 months. We're more powerful in the field and we've got a balanced bowling attack. I was delighted with us today because it would have been easy to accept that we were already in the semi-finals."
Daniel Vettori, New Zealand's captain, was naturally downbeat. He said: "It was disappointing because had everybody fit. It leaves a bit of a sour taste, but England were really good today. We were competitive but didn't make enough runs as we have not done all tournament."
England's semi-final opponents will not be known until later today. It could be Australia, overwhelming favourites for the tournament, it is likely to be either West Indies or Sri Lanka. England have been such a revelation that they should fear nobody, whilst also being wary of everybody, of course.
So often have New Zealand lain in wait for England that it must have been tempting to seek a restraining order for stalking. In the last World Cup, in the Champions Trophy last autumn, there they have been ready to pounce.
And there they were again last night, needling, cajoling, prodding, tugging at England's shirt tails refusing to go quietly. But, and not before time, this new brand of England were too slick, too confident.
New Zealand's innings was of a type so frequently provided in Twenty20, neither one thing nor the other. It was competitive but it was probably not enough. England have become adept in a short time of squeezing the lifeblood out of opposition batsmen.
The pitch was slower than that encountered in Barbados, the outfields larger. England adjusted smoothly. Bresnan was accurate and clever at the start of the innings, using several varieties of slower ball adeptly. The slow men, Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy, again did what they do with skill and it took some boldness by Ross Taylor and Scott Styris to take the Kiwis to the realms of decency.
England rattled along at the start and had 57 on the board after six overs, once more a recommendation for their new opening pair. The game was theirs to lose afterwards. They stuttered but Morgan and Luke Wright put on 52 in seven and that was more or less that.Reuse content