LONDON: An incredible game gained the incredible ending it deserved when Tim Southee and Trent Boult combined to complete a remarkable boundary catch.
With England requiring 24 runs from the final seven deliveries of an enthralling ODI – which had been interrupted by rain after 43.5 overs remaining and England needed 54 off 37 balls – it appeared Adil Rashid had drilled the final ball of the penultimate over for six.
But Southee, covering good ground and getting two hands to the chance on the long-on boundary, displayed not just the athleticism but the presence of mind to know that his momentum was going to carry him over the boundary. Throwing the ball back to Boult, running towards him from long-off, he ensured his side claimed the catch that ended England’s hopes of victory.
But if proof were required that the “new England” on display at Edgbaston on Tuesday was no aberration, it was provided in this match at the Kia Oval. Just three days after setting their record score in an ODI, England registered their record score batting second.
However, it was not enough to prevent New Zealand from levelling the Royal London series after another run-soaked game on the sort of batting track that must leave bowlers wishing they had become plumbers or electricians.
The match after England set their record ODI score of 408 at Edgbaston, New Zealand hit back with a total of 398 for 5, their second-highest in ODI cricket after their 402 for 2 against Ireland in 2008 and their highest against a Test nation.
But England – first powered by Alex Hales’ maiden ODI half-century and then Eoin Morgan’s 47-ball innings of 88 – sustained their chase long after it looked impossible. Even after the loss of their seventh-wicket and last recognised batsman, Sam Billings, with 124 runs required and only 14 overs left, England kept charging towards their target.
Rashid and Liam Plunkett thrashed 76 runs in 8.3 overs – equalling the England record they set on Tuesday of hitting 14 sixes in an ODI innings – until Southee and Boult’s intervention on the boundary.
But while England eventually fell 14 runs short of their D/L target – the revised target was 34 runs from 13 balls upon the resumption – they will take heart from a second record-breaking batting effort within four days. A few weeks ago, as a timid England were jettisoned from the World Cup in the group stages, such boldness looked beyond them.
Never have more runs been scored in an ODI in England and only twice, in the 3,655 game history of ODIs, have more runs been scored in a match anywhere in the world. Before this week, England had only scored more runs once in a 100-over ODI.
Ross Taylor’s 13th ODI century – an innings of increasing dominance – underpinned New Zealand’s vast total, but there were strong, selfless contributions throughout their batting line-up.
Given a customarily positive start by Brendon McCullum, who had elected to bat first upon winning the toss, they were boosted by half-centuries from Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson before Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi thrashed quick 30s towards the end of the innings.
At one stage McCullum, charging down the pitch to hit Chris Jordan off his length, took 20 from four deliveries and, while Plunkett’s extra pace resulted in a mis-hit to midwicket, Williamson made his first half-century in 10 ODI innings to keep New Zealand on track.
It was a largely conventional innings. He scored just 3 from his first 11 deliveries and only hit one boundary in his first 35 balls – and that from a misfield from Hales that should have been a single – but then plundered three off-side fours in an over as Ben Stokes struggled to maintain the required line before taking Rashid for 14 in four balls with two lofted drives following a pull for six.
In between times, he late cut beautifully, hit anything pitched up over the in-field and punished the short ball. Only Steven Finn, who twice found Williamson’s inside edge with well-directed back of a length deliveries, demanded any respect.
In the end, it was a full toss from Stokes that ended Williamson’s innings. Although Steve Davis, the square leg umpire, originally signalled no-ball in the belief that the delivery was above waist height, the TV umpire – Bruce Oxenford – judged it to be a legal delivery.
But if England thought they had made the key breakthrough, they were quickly disillusioned as Taylor started to accelerate. Having taken 50 deliveries to make his first 43 runs, his next 76 came from only 46 balls. Moving into top gear with a trademark slog-sweep for six off Rashid, he then cut Ben Stokes for another before heaving Jordan over midwicket for his third in 10 balls. In the same period, Jordan was also taken for two leg side fours as he struggled to hit the correct lengths.
Taylor was dropped twice. The first came when he had seven and cut Plunkett hard to Jason Roy’s right at point and the second when he had 40 and drove Stokes hard to Joe Root at short extra-cover. Neither was easy.
England’s bowling figures were ugly. Jordan, who was unable to bowl his final over after appearing to sustain a side strain that seems sure to keep him out of the third ODI, equalled Steve Harmison’s record for the most expensive analysis by an England bowler in an ODI, while Stokes, Rashid and Plunkett all conceded in excess of seven an over.
England were ahead of New Zealand on an over-by-over comparison basis for much of their innings. But each time it seemed they were on target, New Zealand struck back with a key wicket.
Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, gaining assistance from the surface that was absent for all other bowlers, claimed two wickets in three balls as first Joe Root and then Hales hit attempted slog-sweeps to fielders and when Morgan sliced to deep point and Jos Buttler edged one angled across him from the excellent Boult, it seemed the end was nigh.
But England kept charging and, had it not been for Southee’s intervention might have pulled off a memorable chase.