Paul Collingwood redeemed his standing as England's one-day captain when he expertly guided his side to a series saving six-wicket victory over New Zealand.
No England player would have felt more depressed and guilty about the team's abject performances in Wellington and Hamilton than Collingwood. Captains are expected to set the right example and in both matches he had been needlessly run out, on the second occasion in farcical style.
Collingwood is a proud man who does not enjoy being made to look foolish, so he needed a big performance from himself as well as his team here. The 31-year-old is not the sort of captain who can motivate his side with a chest-thumping speech. It is not his style. He has other qualities. Collingwood leads by example and he did just that with an unbeaten 70 and three wickets to complete a memorable all-round performance.
He captained the side pretty well too. There was an element of risk behind the tactic of allowing his three main bowlers – Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson and Stuart Broad – to send down 23 of the first 25 overs bowled, but it showed aggressive intent. Anderson, Broad and himself had shared five, early wickets and the dismissal of Jacob Oram would have allowed England to bowl New Zealand out for a paltry total.
On too many occasions England stop and reconsider rather than go for the kill when they have an opponent by the throat, and the goal would have been achieved but for an umpiring error – Oram survived a plumb lbw shout from Sidebottom when he was on five. The powerful left-hander made the most of the let-off and England's weaker bowlers, scoring 88 crucial runs. He and Daniel Vettori added 74 with the the New Zealand captain hitting 42 off 35 balls.
"It was great for me to go out and knock off the runs, but this game was about anybody putting in a special performance," Collingwood said. "It has been a tough week – losing as we did hits you hard and we were under quite a bit of pressure after those two performances. But we have bounced back and now have an opportunity to win the series.
"Naturally, I am over the moon with my performance but there were other good performances too. Stuart Broad was exceptional with the ball, Ian Bell struck the ball beautifully as did Kevin Pietersen. It wasn't a typical KP innings, but he got stuck in and played his part in an important partnership with Ian."
Bell's 73-run contribution was much-needed by England's No 3. In nine previous limited-over games he had amassed 88 runs at an average of 9.8, not the figures wanted from a player occupying a pivotal position at the top of the order.
When in form, Bell is a class act and he was unfortunate to be given out lbw to Vettori, edging the ball on to his pads. His angry reaction may interest the match referee, but a good day for him was completed with a brilliant diving catch, running back from mid-wicket, to dismiss Oram.
Broad produced arguably his best bowling display for England, taking 3 for 32 in testing conditions. An initial seven-over spell, in which he claimed 2 for 12, was bowled in to a very strong wind and his figures would have been much better but for a final over that yielded 15 runs.
Broad is blessed with a bit of a golden arm, having taken 36 wickets in 24 matches. Of England bowlers with more than 30 one-day wickets, only Andrew Flintoff has a better strike-rate. Flintoff takes a wicket every 33.7 one-day balls bowled, whereas Broad snares his at 33.8. His success is great news for England because the best way of keeping the run-rate down in modern one-day cricket is by taking wickets.
As well as England played there remains plenty of room for improvement. Phil Mustard is a popular member of the side and a player with huge potential, but he needs a score. The dashing left hander has now opened the batting on 10 occasions and is yet to pass 40. England should continue with him until the end of the one-day series, but his form is unlikely to gain him Test selection.
Mustard became England's seventh run out victim when an attempted quick single was beaten by a direct hit from Vettori. England had several run out chances, but failed to take any of them. It is an area Peter Moores, the coach, needs to address.
England practise this aspect of their fielding but it is questionable whether they practise it enough. South Africa are a magnificent fielding side, probably the best in the world, but it is not through luck. On the day before England's decisive World Cup Super 8 match against South Africa in Barbados Herschelle Gibbs, Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers stayed behind after training with Jonty Rhodes, their fielding coach, and spent an hour practising picking up the ball and throwing it at the stumps. England work hard, but I have yet to see them show such application.