New Zealand were all over England like a rash in Tuesday's second T20. From the first over, when Martin Guptill swung his bat and deposited James Tredwell's off-break into the sightscreen, to the last that brought the wicket of Jade Dernbach to complete the hiding, they were on top of the game.
Only in the field, and when Jos Buttler further enhanced his rapidly expanding reputation with another thunderous half-century, did England compete, doing so brilliantly until the end of the Black Caps innings when Brendon McCullum put the game out of reach in the space of two overs of brutality, at which point Buttler let four byes through his legs and it all got a little frenetic. By contrast, New Zealand's fielding, generally a strong suit, has been lacklustre in both games so far and another catch was added to the five chances of varying degrees of difficulty that were spilled in Auckland when Hamish Rutherford put down a simple chance in the deep to reprieve Eoin Morgancorrect. A team does not do that and expect to get away with it too often.
The teams now meet in the characterless bowl of Wellington's "Cake Tin" on Friday for the decider of the three-match series. Then the party splits, with the majority returning to Hamilton for Sunday's first ODI and some flying back to England. In the meantime the new arrivals, led by Alastair Cook, stayed in Hamilton for training and practice with the one-day batting coach, Graham Thorpe. At times, it really is hard to keep track.
There were a number of aspects in which England got it wrong on Tuesday, but it began with the toss. Whatever induced Stuart Broad to put New Zealand into bat remains a mystery although it is doubtful it is a decision he made on his own, on the spur of the moment without consulting anyone. There was a little bit of nibble off the seam for the England pacemen but when it gets dark, colder and the lights are on, there is no question that for whatever reason the ball can start to move around in the air to a significant degree. But if the decision to field first was done out of any sense of wanting to test themselves, or merely to see what happened for future reference (World Cup matches will be played under lights in New Zealand in two years' time) then it was surely misguided. If he gets the chance in Wellington, it is surely not a mistake Broad will make again.
Following the success in the first game, it was only to be expected that an unchanged side would play in the second match. Whether that should be the case in the third is another matter. In particular the top of the order, with Alex Hales and Michael Lumb, must be giving cause for concern, neither of them able thus far to provide the sort of incendiary start that Guptill and Rutherford managed.
Both, in fact, were embarrassed by the manner in which the Kiwi seamers swung the ball, unable to make the sort of contact that the situation demanded. A good start is imperative for, by the Kiwis' calculation anyway, their statistics show that if you can take three wickets in the power play, you have a good chance of restricting the total and of winning the game (80% of the time, according to their left-arm pace bowler Mitchell McClenaghan).
Neither Hales nor Lumb has managed to get the juices flowing so far in the same way as they did when England won in Mumbai before Christmas and they put on 82 for the first wicket at almost 10 runs per over. Each has had four innings, including the two warm-up matches in Whangarei. Lumb, who scored the only half-century of his 13-match career in Mumbai, has managed a total of 109 runs, from 95 balls, but looks to be a poor hitter when the ball is shaping away from him, looking to the legside as he does. Hales has had a shocking time of it with 32 runs from 36 balls, failing on two counts in not getting the innings off to a good start, and stagnating the scoreboard.
Are four bad games following one excellent one a good reason to continue, given the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket? Or does the situation demand a change now? As part of the successful side that won the world T20 in the Caribbean three years ago, Lumb has been unfortunate in not being able to establish his place because of injury. Hales, on the other hand, has that terrific innings against West Indies at Trent Bridge, when he made 99, on which to call for reference.
The essential difference, though, is that one of them, Lumb, was 33 on Tuesday so hardly a prospect for the future, while Hales is 24 and has four half-centuries, including that hundred all but, in 16 games. Joe Root made his T20 debut in that same Mumbai match and neither batted nor bowled. But clearly, as his selection already in all three forms of the game indicates, he represents the next generation. England could bring him in now and either open with him or Luke Wright, losing nothing now, and perhaps gaining a lot.
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image: © JJ Hall