Saturday's 22-run defeat to New Zealand in the third NatWest Series match highlighted exactly why England continue to be a capable yet modest one-day side. Paul Collingwood's team contains the personnel to challenge and defeat any side in the world but, frustratingly, such performances are all too often followed by unconvincing, lacklustre displays that have a complacent and slightly arrogant air to them.
As a team England work incredibly hard at their cricket but they seem to be running to stand still. The dilemma is not down to a lack of ability but a mindset. When England play well they quickly adopt a manner that suggests they have cracked this form of the game and a major trophy is just around the corner. Against any opponent, particularly one as combative as New Zealand, it is a dangerous attitude to have. The Black Caps never believe they have made it. They continue to strive and it is why they keep punching above their weight.
But to conclude that Saturday's result was solely down to England's bungling would be unfair to the Black Caps, whose lower order batsmen hung in and showed great skill to take their side to 182. Grant Elliott and Kyle Mills were excellent, as were the bowlers, but should New Zealand have been allowed to recover from 75 for 6 on a pitch offering assistance to fast bowlers?
Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, praised Collingwood in the build up to the match but England's leader did not have a particularly good day in the field. It is the captain's responsibility to ensure that his side are ruthless and finish a job off, but having got the opposition down England seemed to coast, believing the result was a formality.
The errors in the field should have been compensated for by a batting line up capable of passing the Black Caps' modest total. But, as with the ball, the team showed complacency when the game was there to be taken. Good sides act instinctively in these situations and it is hard to believe Australia, at their best, would have missed such an opportunity. They would have knocked the runs off in 30 overs. But England were unsure of how to chase down the total, floundering between all-out attack and the careful pursuit of a gettable score.
Luke Wright edged to slip and Kevin Pietersen was caught at mid-wicket early on playing an indifferent stroke but England had progressed to 62 for 2 with Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara seemingly in fine form. But both fell in consecutive overs to lazy shots. Bell was caught driving at extra cover whilst Bopara carelessly cut a wide ball to Jamie How in the gully.
Owais Shah and Tim Ambrose then flirted with good-length balls and were caught in the slips as England collapsed to 64 for 6. Collingwood and Graeme Swann added 65 for the seventh wicket before Swann casually clipped Scott Styris to mid-wicket with 54 runs needed for victory. Collingwood became Tim Southee's fourth victim when he was adjudged lbw and England's last realistic chance of victory went when Stuart Broad was strangled down the leg-side.
Broad was England's stand-out performer on the day, taking 2 for 14 in 10 high quality overs. Chris Tremlett, with 1 for 24 in 10 overs, provided him with most support. When asked, Broad accepted that England's run chase was sloppy. "It was," he said. "Cricket is a pressure game, it was a good wicket, good ground for batting, but we didn't cope with the pressure well enough. We didn't bat well enough.
"The feeling in the dressing-room is a bit downbeat, really. Obviously, we were delighted with our efforts at the halfway point so not to win that game is very disappointing. At half-time we were told to play our natural games. If you see a ball in your area, play fearless cricket and hit it. We just didn't get a good enough start and then faltered in the middle.
"We lost wickets at crucial times. But not just losing one wicket, we were losing two or more at a time. That's a real killer when you're in a run chase. Cricket has always been a pressure game. When we bowled, New Zealand couldn't release the pressure by flicking us over mid-wicket or playing big shots.
"We're all international cricketers. We shouldn't need telling how to build a run chase or play our own game. But the series is 1-1 with two to play and there will be plenty of chances to put it right."
England have two days to recover from the disappointment of Bristol but New Zealand's approach will be no different at The Oval on Wednesday. Collingwood and Peter Moores now face the delicate and challenging task of simultaneously rollocking and building up the confidence of the side.
England v New Zealand Scoreboard
England won toss
J M How b Broad......... 10
B B McCullum c Pietersen b Anderson ......... 17
L R P Taylor b Broad......... 8
S B Styris c Ambrose b Tremlett......... 4
D R Flynn c Tremlett b Anderson......... 2
G D Elliott c Wright b Anderson......... 56
†G J Hopkins c sub b Collingwood......... 7
*D L Vettori c Shah b Swann......... 18
K D Mills c Collingwood b Wright......... 47
T G Southee c Pietersen b Wright......... 0
M R Gillespie not out......... 0
Extras (lb6 w7 pens 0)......... 13
Total (50 overs)......... 182Fall: 1-19 2-37 3-42 4-42 5-49 6-75 7-110 8-164 9-168
Bowling: Anderson 10-0-61-3; Broad 10-4-14-2; Tremlett 10-1-24-1; Wright 6-0-34-2; Collingwood 10-0-33-1; Swann 4-0-10-1.
I R Bell c McCullum b Elliott......... 20
L J Wright c Styris b Mills......... 2
K P Pietersen c Elliott b Mills......... 4
R S Bopara c How b Southee......... 27
*P D Collingwood lbw b Southee......... 34
O A Shah c Styris b Southee......... 0
†T R Ambrose c Taylor b Southee......... 0
G P Swann c Taylor b Styris......... 29
S C J Broad c Hopkins b Vettori......... 17
C T Tremlett c Vettori b Elliott......... 3
J M Anderson not out......... 0
Extras (lb8 w15 nb1 pens 0) ......... 24
Total (46.2 overs)......... 160
Fall: 1-3 2-19 3-62 4-64 5-64 6-64 7-129 8-152 9-160.
Bowling: Mills 10-0-42-2; Gillespie 8-3-15-0; Southee 10-2-38-4; Elliott 5.2-2-9-2; Vettori 9-1-32-1; Styris 4-0-16-1
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and P J Hartley (Eng).
Man of the match: K D Mills (NZ).
New Zealnd won by 22 runs. Five match-series level at 1-1 with two to play.
Fourth ODI: Wednesday (The Oval).
Fifth ODI: Saturday (Lord's).