England may not yet be back on track, but first things first. They managed yesterday to avoid going completely off the rails. By romping to victory, with a hint of controversy, against New Zealand in the second of their Super 8 matches in the World Twenty20 the retention of the title remains possible.
There is still the slight matter of beating Sri Lanka tomorrow in their final stage match. Ominously the hosts demonstrated their form with a nine-wicket win over West Indies yesterday. If England do fail to win that match they will be dependent on results elsewhere to qualify for the semi-finals by net run-rate.
But they should be much uplifted by yesterday's triumph. After two successive bereft performances, which seemed to be the exact opposite of what peaking for a tournament is about, they found some kind of salvation.
There were seven balls left, or the equivalent of a light year in this format, when England won by six wickets. The key partnership in overhauling New Zealand's total of 148 for 6 was between Luke Wright, the direct replacement for, if not the replica of, Kevin Pietersen in this tournament, and Eoin Morgan, on whom relies any realistic aspiration of becoming champions again.
The pair put on 89 from 60 balls for the third wicket, which all but took the match beyond the Kiwis. Wright made 76 from 43 balls with five fours and five sixes. Elegance was not the first adjective that sprang to mind for his assault, crashing the ball straight and smearing it powerfully over midwicket.
England's target was well within reach because they had contained their opponents. It was a pity that the superb bowling of Steve Finn in achieving this was overshadowed by his proclivity for knocking off the bails with his knee as he runs in.
England made light of it, New Zealand did not. It was decided before the competition in discussions with the ECB that if Finn erred he would be given one warning, with a dead ball called thereafter. He transgressed four times in all yesterday.
Ross Taylor, New Zealand's captain, said: "I disagree with the rule, it's a rule for one person. I think it cost us eight runs and a wicket. Unless the batsman gets out you should just carry on. It should be a dead ball once a wicket happens."
It is mildly embarrassing for England and a pity that it took the edge off an emphatic win. As their captain, Stuart Broad, said: "The number one point of it is that Finny's got to try to stop doing it.
"Our bowling coach, David Saker, is pulling out whatever hair he has left because of it – it's up to those two to sort it out. But that's the first time it hasn't cost us."
Finn was superb otherwise and his bowling up front set the tone for England. That he removed the two most dangerous sluggers in Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum always made it possible that New Zealand would score fewer than the pitch demanded. England, who opened the bowling with the 21-year-old spinner Danny Briggs after they left out Samit Patel, were usually in control. A late flurry in which James Franklin was outstanding made the target competitive, no more.
Wright is what he is. He already has two fifties in the competition after scoring 99 not out in the opening match against Afghanistan and was no doubt grateful yesterday not to have to walk in after the loss of a wicket in the first over.
England managed to reach the fourth yesterday before Craig Kieswetter was bowled trying desperately to find some way to attack, and to find some form. He is a worry. When Alex Hales was bowled by Nathan McCullum there was still plenty of work to do.
If it was Wright whose club battered most of the runs, it was Morgan who managed the tempo of affairs. When the required rate reached nine an over with 11 overs left he looked as though he might take tiffin before dealing with it. Both were out before the end going for glory but by that time the result was not in doubt. Something similar will be needed tomorrow and for the next week.
Sir Lanka's victory have been worrying for Broad and his team. The hosts restricted West Indies, who had easily beaten England three days ago, to 129 for 5. Sri Lanka overhauled that total for the loss of only one wicket thanks to Mahela Jayawardene (65) and Kumar Sangakkara (39) who put on 108 together.
If England beat Sri Lanka and New Zealand beat West Indies, England and Sri Lanka qualify. If England beat Sri Lanka and West Indies beat New Zealand, three teams will have four points and the qualifiers will be decided by net run-rate. If England lose, they could still qualify if New Zealand beat West Indies with three teams on two points each, separated by net run-rate.
New Zealand won toss
M J Guptill lbw b Finn 5/0/1/6
R J Nicol c Bairstow b Swann 11/0/1/15
†B B McCullum c Wright b Finn 10/0/2/10
K S Williamson c Kieswetter b Briggs 17/0/1/23
*L R P Taylor c Hales b Finn 22/0/2/12
J E C Franklin run out 40/2/4/33
N L McCullum not out 16/2/0/10
D A J Bracewell not out 2/0/0/1
Extras (b3, lb7, w4, nb1) 15
Total (for 6, 20 overs) 148
Fall 1-7, 2-20, 3-42, 4-67, 5-107, 6-146.
Did not bat D L Vettori, T G Southee, K D Mills.
Bowling Briggs 4-0-36-1; Finn 4-0-16-3; Bresnan 4-0-29-0; Swann 4-0-20-1; Broad 4-0-37-0.
†C Kieswetter b Vettori 4/0/0/14
A D Hales b McCullum 22/0/3/15
L J Wright c Taylor b Bracewell 76/5/5/43
E J G Morgan c Bracewell b Mills 30/1/1/31
J C Buttler not out 5/0/0/8
J M Bairstow not out 5/1/2/4
Extras (lb3, w4) 7
Total (for 4, 18.5 overs) 149
Fall 1-21, 2-38, 3-127, 4-142.
Did not bat T T Bresnan, *S C J Broad, G P Swann, D R Briggs, S T Finn.
Bowling Mills 4-0-23-1; Southee 2-0-32-0; Vettori 4-0-20-1; N L McCullum 4-0-22-1; Nicol 3-0-29-0; Franklin 1-0-12-0; D A J Bracewell 0.5-0-8-1.
Umpires Asad Rauf (Pak) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV Umpire S J Davies (Aus).
Match referee J Srinath (Ind).
Man of the match L J Wright (Eng).
England win by 6 wkts
How England can qualify
If England beat Sri Lanka and New Zealand beat West Indies, England and Sri Lanka qualify. If England beat Sri Lanka and West Indies beat New Zealand, three teams will have four points and the qualifiers will be decided by net run-rate. If England lose, they could still qualify if New Zealand beat West Indies with three teams on two points each, separated by net run-rate.Reuse content