Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Commonwealth Bank Series.

The other finalist of the Commonwealth Bank Series has at last been found. And unfortunately that team is England. Needing to beat Australia and us in their final two matches (and hoping we failed to beat Australia), all these eventualities have transpired leaving New Zealand with a weaker preparation for the world cup, and the ignominy of going home ahead of what is a pretty average England side.

I've just watched our crucial game with England. And a bitter event it was too. It was a great start from the Black Caps as first Franklin delivered a maiden, and then Bond (after sending down a wide) destroyed Vaughan's stumps with a devastating, swinging delivery, reminiscent of the ball that dismissed Gilchrist back in the VB Series of 2001. But after picking up three reasonably early wickets we allowed Strauss and Collingwood to develop a strong 100+ partnership, both (I think) their top scores throughout the series. From this point on we never seemed to exert enough pressure as Fleming's captaincy, which is often (rightly) so highly praised, did not come to the fore - hindered by some relatively lacklustre bowling and fielding including the unusually weak link Vettori. After the important and potentially decisive dismissal of Flintoff we should have been able to restrict England to a score of 230 or so. Instead we let it drift to 270, including 16 off the final over which left Bond with the still impressive figures of 10-2-46-4!

But the worst aspect of our performance was that we got ourselves into a very dominant position with the bat, only to throw it away. For most of the innings we were clearly on track to win the game, but were guilty of letting ourselves meander through certain stages of the innings when calculated risks were the way to go. Especially as we had the luxury of having seven wickets in hand for the final ten overs - we hadn't made the most of this. For example our first 50 runs came off 6.5 overs, but our 100 wasn't up until 19.3 overs despite the loss of just 1 wicket. We allowed Flintoff and Panesar (admittedly two excellent bowlers) to be all over us, to intimidate us. Right until the last few overs we appeared comfortable but therein lies the problem. When do the Black Caps ever win a game with a fair few overs to spare? They seem to like to do it the hard way. The way that gives us all nervous wrecks. The way that a couple of bad overs and a winning position can become a losing one.

Fleming has to take a lot of the blame. Yes today he scored well for the first time this series, making quick early runs, but he simply lost his way. 106 off 149 is pretty damn pathetic. And this includes the fact that his first 29 were a run a ball, making his remaining 77 a useless strike rate of 64.17. He slowed down to ensure he made his century which was a selfish action, he should be playing for the team rather than his own gratification. He didn't even make up for it after reaching the milestone, a soft dismissal occurring as he finally tried to lift the ante - far too late on in the piece. He was also instrumental in what I perceive to be the game's turning point; the running out of Taylor who was looking good. Perhaps it would even have been better for Fleming to sacrifice himself. It's easy to criticise but Fleming really needs to account for his actions.

The Black Caps also need to think about their batting order, and being more flexible in different situations. Styris did his best out there today, and it wasn't bad, but just back from injury and a slow runner between the wickets, perhaps it would have been better for an in form Jacob Oram to take his slot and try and press home an advantage. Was Fulton the right man at 3 after such a good start. His strategy of slow, steady accumulation before accelerating to the close is better suited to when we are in trouble. Today he could have dropped down to accommodate the exciting Taylor. (It took a lot of guts to say that with Fulton my blue eyed boy from Oxford, just outside View Hill where my folks live, lol!).

Suffice to say today's result angers me. I would have loved to see an exciting finals series between us and Oz. And in a way we deserved to be there after having close losses to Australia in comparison to England's big ones. Yes England beat them - but even that, some are suggesting - could have been Aussie not exactly trying their hardest! We almost chased down 344 against Oz for goodness sake, and probably would have were it not for the rain delay that slowed Oram's momentum. But that's all hypothetical and possibly sour grapes. England are in the final now instead of us; and I'm bitter. But there's still the Chappell-Hadlee series, and of course we'll win the world cup!

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