England's rocky relationship with Seddon Park was surely dealt a final blow when they squandered a winning position to lose the first of three ODIs to New Zealand by three wickets, undone in the end by the captain, Brendon McCullum, and Martin Guptill, an opening batsman returned to the crease, hobbling on one leg having previously retired hurt with a twanged hamstring. Runners are no longer permitted in international cricket.
It was McCullum's brutal hitting that had secured his side their only win in the Twenty20 series at this ground last week, and this time his unbeaten 69 from 61 balls, a perfectly timed innings in which he was particularly severe on anything remotely short of a length, with three pulled sixes to go with six fours, saw them home to their target of 259 with seven deliveries to spare.
He relied though on Guptill's doggedness in resuming his innings, having been forced to the dressing room in the sixth over, with only three runs to his name from 17 balls. He returned at the fall of the seventh wicket with 41 runs still needed from 25 deliveries and made a further 24 from 10 balls including a clever ramped six over third man as Steve Finn dropped short, and the winning run as both batsmen clambered into the bowling of Stuart Broad, Finn and Chris Woakes.
Jimmy Anderson, who in the first over of the innings had taken the wicket of BJ Watling, his 529th in international cricket, to overtake Sir Ian Botham as England's highest wicket-taker, was held back to send down what might have been anticipated to be the decisive final over and did not even get to bowl it. Over the course of the last three tours to New Zealand England have played four matches at the ground, one in each international format and one against Northern Knights, whose home ground it is, and lost the lot. They may well want to send in an exorcist before considering a return.
England were put in to bat by McCullum and, having worked their way to a position from which they could launch an attack in the final 10 overs, as is the vogue, they lost their way, unable to put together a partnership and losing their last seven wickets for 68 in that time. Although Alastair Cook was beaten and bowled by Mitchell McClenaghan in the fourth over, his feet not yet moving properly after his lay-off, Ian Bell, fluently, and Jonathan Trott, tenaciously at first and then steadily thereafter, added 84 for the second wicket before Bell, wafting an airy-fairy shot at a short ball outside off stump, was caught at the wicket.
At this point Cook sent in Joe Root, a move which, in combination with Trott, tended to clog up the works. Excellent young player as Root may be, and his recent brisk half-century in Mohali notwithstanding, he is effectively being asked to duplicate the role of Kevin Pietersen in this side. That is a near impossible task for anyone but less so perhaps for Eoin Morgan who ought to have moved up the order. This then invites the question whether it should have been him or Jonny Bairstow in the team in the first place.
Root's runs were pleasant enough but it is Trott's job to see England through to pretty much the situation they achieved, and with which Cook said they were satisfied, and there is no room for two sheet anchor roles to be played simultaneously. Blaming Trott, as is customary, is just not right.
Trott is a skilled accumulator but a poor slogger and it was only right that he swung from the hip and indeed was bowled doing so: England needed to get the more exotic and violent stroke players in. They managed it but it failed to work. Morgan lacerated one to backward point where Guptill is so efficient. Root, trying to accelerate, was neck-and-cropped, Jos Buttler hit a brace of sixes and then toe-ended a full toss to cover and Stuart Broad was bounced out. Only some beefy blows from Graeme Swann and Woakes got them to 258.
The Black Caps' innings spluttered at the start, against accurate bowling from Anderson and Finn. With both openers gone (for the time being) and Ross Taylor struggling for any fluency and succumbing to Woakes' surprise bouncer, it was down initially to the talented young right-hander Kane Williamson, who responded with 74 from 99 balls before a brilliant combination of Bell at midwicket and the bowler Woakes, by the stumps, saw him run out. The charge to the line began with the batting power play, taken after 35 overs at which equivalent point New Zealand were 19 runs behind England. But McCullum pulled Finn for six and then he and his brother, Nathan, plundered 17 from Anderson to redress the balance.
The game always looked a close call either way thereafter but it was McCullum and Guptill who held their nerve.
New Zealand have called up Hamish Rutherford and Tim Southee for the last two matches in the series in place of Guptill and McClenaghan – the latter picked up a side strain – with the second match in Napier on Wednesday.
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