England are left facing the prospect of performing a feat they have not come close to completing in Australia this winter following their latest failure in the Commonwealth Bank one-day series. The 58-run defeat to New Zealand yesterday leaves Andrew Flintoff's demoralised side needing to beat Australia in Sydney on Friday if they are to retain any realistic hope of reaching the finals.
England now sit rooted to the bottom of the table five points behind New Zealand and with a far inferior run-rate. A comprehensive bonus-point win over New Zealand in Brisbane on 6 February could bring England level with the Black Caps but the miserable batting displays in Adelaide, where the tourists were dismissed for 120 and 110, mean that they need to defeat Ricky Ponting's side.
It was England's bowling and fielding, the two areas of their cricket that have been respectable amid this one-day débâcle, that let them down at the WACA. Flintoff's inexperienced attack conceded 22 wides and three no-balls during New Zealand's total of 318 for 7, their highest against England. The fielders failed to give the bowlers the support they needed, fumbling around like a drunk looking for the light switch in the middle of the night.
Lou Vincent and Ross Taylor, with 76 and 71, gave New Zealand the perfect platform for a late onslaught and Oram did not disappoint as 65 runs were added in the final five overs of the innings. Oram entered the series with a one-day batting average of 18 but in his past three innings he has scored 86, 101 not out and an unbeaten 54. The left-hander's 241 runs have come off just 194 balls, with no assault being fiercer than that witnessed yesterday where his final 35 runs came off 10 balls. A lumbering Chris Tremlett suffered the most. After an inauspicious fielding display, the 6ft 8in fast bowler was hacked for 22 runs in his final over. Flintoff, who had an ordinary day with the ball too, then went for 16 in the last over.
It would be unkind to lambast Tremlett and Liam Plunkett replacements for the injured James Anderson and Jon Lewis for the way in which they bowled because neither has played a great deal of cricket this winter and both are very young. Even so it was still disappointing to see the pair send down as many wides as they did in lacklustre opening spells, and make basic errors in the field.
The pair were not the only ones to be exposed in the field as New Zealand ran England ragged. Needless overthrows were conceded, catches were dropped, singles were pinched far too easily and the energy level was low. Panesar attempted to liven things up during a fine spell of bowling, his best of the series, but England looked like what they are a beaten team devoid of confidence. Panesar virtually booked his World Cup place by taking 2 for 35 on a helpful pitch. He bowled with guile and control, and deserved even better figures. He was the only England bowler New Zealand played with respect.
Ed Joyce and Ian Bell gave England a glimmer of hope. Joyce, promoted to opener to ease the suffering for the out-of-form Andrew Strauss, played some lovely shots during his 66 but the manner of the left-hander's dismissal brilliantly run out by a diving one-handed pick-up and flick from Vincent at mid-wicket highlighted the difference between the sides.
Strauss and Paul Collingwood scratched around before perishing and when Flintoff was bowled behind his legs by the excellent Daniel Vettori the game was New Zealand's. Paul Nixon made 49 as England attempted to reach 254, the total that deprived New Zealand of a bonus point. England seemed pleased with achieving the feat. How far have their expectations dropped this winter? Australia must be quaking.
Allan Border last night criticised Kevin Pietersen for leaving the tour so quickly after breaking his rib in the opening match of the tri-series. The former Australia captain said Pietersen ought to have stayed if there was any chance he could help his team into the finals.
Pietersen had his rib broken by a delivery from Glenn McGrath at the MCG on 12 January. An X-ray revealed a fracture that would keep him out for up to five weeks and he was sent home.
However, Border said Pietersen acted too hastily. "He was on the plane before the X-ray came back," Border said. "If he's got a broken rib, fair enough, but it wasn't displaced broken, it was just cracked, and given two weeks he could be playing. With England a chance to scrape into the finals and he a key man. Too quick on to the plane for my liking."
Scoreboard from Perth
New Zealand won the toss
L Vincent c Dalrymple b Plunkett 76
S P Fleming lbw b Plunkett 15
P G Fulton c Nixon b Plunkett 15
R L Taylor c Panesar b Collingwood 71
C D McMillan st Nixon b Panesar 11
J D P Oram not out 54
B B McCullum c Strauss b Panesar 19
J E C Franklin c Plunkett b Tremlett 9
D L Vettori not out 11
Extras (lb12 w22 nb3) 37
Total (for 7, 50 overs) 318
Fall: 1-32 2-53 3-190 4-213 5-219 6-246 7-268.
Did not bat: J S Patel, S E Bond.
Bowling: Plunkett 9-0-54-3; Tremlett 10-0-72-1; Flintoff 10-0-66-0; Panesar 10-2-35-2; Dalrymple 5-0-43-0; Collingwood 6-0-36-1.
E C Joyce run out 66
M B Loye c Fleming b Franklin 15
I R Bell c Fleming b Patel 31
A J Strauss st McCullum b Vettori 12
P D Collingwood c Fleming b McMillan 17
A Flintoff b Vettori 13
J W M Dalrymple c Franklin b McMillan 14
P A Nixon c Oram b Bond 49
L E Plunkett not out 25
Extras (b1 lb2 w8 nb7) 18
Total 8 wkts (50 overs) 260
Fall: 1-27 2-99 3-123 4-136 5-156 6-162 7-184 8-260.
Did not bat: C T Tremlett, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Franklin 8-1-45-1; Bond 10-0-58-1; Oram 5-0-23-0; Patel 10-0-53-1; Vettori 10-0-40-2; McMillan 7-1-38-2.
New Zealand beat England by 58 runs
Man of the match: L Vincent.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pakistan) and SJ Davis (Aus).