The England-New Zealand series had a fitting finale as England overcame New Zealand in a rain-shortened game as Chester-le-Street in Durham. Unlike the earlier four matches, this decider wasn’t as high-scoring, but it was close nonetheless. Batting first, New Zealand failed to cross 300 for only the second time in the five-match series. However, they fought back well, and had the hosts on the ropes in the rain-shortened game, as England panicked chasing the D/L target. The lower order though showed better resolve, and helped England cross the line, as Kiwis’ lack of penetration in the bowling was again exposed.
Undoubtedly, Jonny Bairstow was the star of the day. He produced his best knock till date, and that too under immense pressure to play the pivotal role in England clinching the series after being 1-2 down with two games to go. Indians would remember Bairstow as the youngster who put paid to their hopes of winning an ODI during the disastrous England tour, by smashing 41 in no time on his debut at Cardiff. He went off the boil since, but with Jos Buttler ruled out, Bairstow came in, and grabbed his opportunities with both hands.
No praise can be too high for Bairstow for the manner in which he led England’s fightback in the match. Chasing 192 in 26 overs, England had begun disastrously having losing half their side for 45 inside 9 overs. At that stage it seemed, only a miracle could help England win. In spite of his debut heroics, no one expected Bairstow to play the kind of power-packed knock he came up with at Durham. But, Bairstow oozed confidence as he hit 11 crunching boundaries and, like against India, four years back, stunned the Kiwis.
While Bairstow knock was the one that mattered the most, victory could not have been possible without the efforts of Sam Billings. He joined Baistow at a stage when the New Zealand bowlers were on top. He gave very good company to Bairstow, and the two took the score 125, before Billings fell to Matt Henry. The rain-curtailed games often help the batting side as, although they have fewer number of overs, they also have all ten wickets in hands. Bairstow and Billings used the same to their advantage, although that doesn’t take away anything from their performance.
Nee Zealand would be disappointed with the end result. But, they have only themselves to blame for they gave Bairstow two lives. Luke Ronchi and Mitchell Santner dropped him on 39 and 56 respectively. They had England on the mat at 45 for 5, and allowed them to recover from such a precarious position. Santner and Ben Wheeler bowled well, but the rest did not support him well. Also, with the bat, no one carried on after getting a good start. The pitch was a tougher one to bat on, but the likes of Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson should have carried on. In the end, England were slightly better, and were deserved victors.
--By A Cricket Analyst