These days it seems that every time an Englishman gets a rugby ball in his hands when he is anywhere near a New Zealander something grim happens.
For the last two weekends England's national rugby team has been thrashed by the All Blacks in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and yesterday England's cricketers decided to get in on the act.
A decision was made to play touch rugby as part of the preparations for today's fourth one-day international against New Zealand at The Oval. Perhaps it should be renamed touch-and-go rugby, because batsman Ian Bell twisted his right knee in that warm-up and is now just that – touch and go – to play in this crucial match. As a consequence Alastair Cook, who has had his own problems with a shoulder, has been put on stand-by for Bell.
The news did not get any better for England, who learned yesterday that all-rounder Jacob Oram has recovered from the hamstring injury which has sidelined him for the series to date. "Getting one of the best one day players [Oram] in the world back in your side makes a difference," said New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori, yesterday.
Thankfully it was not all black for England. Ryan Sidebottom is fit again having missed the last two games with back trouble. England captain Paul Collingwood put it succinctly. "Ryan is 100 per cent and raring to go." It looks certain that Sidebottom will return at the expense of Chris Tremlett, but, Bell's injury apart, there are unlikely to be any other changes.
"That one-day win at Durham was pretty much our perfect one-day game," explained Collingwood. "The way we went about the whole business of setting a target, building partnerships, everything was nigh-on perfect. We are not there yet, [but] the atmosphere in the camp is very confident for what amounts to these two finals coming up."
The defeat at Bristol on Saturday has clearly made an impression though. Collingwood added: "We let ourselves down with the bat and let New Zealand back into the series. I am very confident we can bounce back, sometimes you need those games to give you a kick up the backside and to get you re-focused on where you are going."
Focused or not Collingwood is still able to keep a weather eye on the cash swilling around Twenty20 internationals and when asked about the possibility of England players retiring early to play in the Indian Premier League, admitted: "We get good money playing for England and we love playing for England, but some of the sums of money being bandied around for six weeks' work... anyone would be tempted. You just have to do the maths."
If England do their maths right now they will see that with everything all square they have to win today's match to keep alive hopes of a series victory. Or else there will be another sad group of Englishmen left under a long dark cloud.
England (from): P D Collingwood (capt), I R Bell, A N Cook, L J Wright, K P Pietersen, R S Bopara, O A Shah, T R Ambrose (wkt), G P Swann, S C Broad , C T Tremlett, J M Anderson, R J Sidebottom, A D Mascarenhas .
New Zealand (from): D L Vettori (capt), J M How, B B McCullum (wkt), R P L Taylor, S B Styris, D R Flynn, G D Elliott, G Hopkins, K D Mills, T G Southee, M R Gillespie, M J Mason, J D P Oram, J S Patel.