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Formidable England storm into semifinal

Wisden India logo Wisden India 06-06-2017

© Press Association England had entered the Champions Trophy 2017 as the strong favourites for the title. On Tuesday (June 6), they showed just why, beating New Zealand by 87 runs at the Cardiff Wales Stadium to become the first team assured of a semifinal spot.

In a bit of a hole after a brilliant start, England were 260 for 7 in 44 overs. For most other ODI sides, that would have meant hoping for a score of 290 at best. But England powered their way to 310 all out in 49.3 overs, with Jos Buttler’s 61 not out off 48 the standout in a powerful batting performance overall that was set up by Alex Hales (56 off 62), Joe Root (64 off 65) and Ben Stokes (48 off 53).

In reply, Kane Williamson produced a master class, stroking 87 off 98, but complete lack of support from his teammates meant New Zealand ended up well short at 223 all out in 44.2 overs. Liam Plunkett finished with 4 for 55, the most successful of the England bowlers.

Full scoreboard: England vs New Zealand

The turning point of the chase came when Mark Wood bowled a cross-seam delivery that took off from a length and brushed Williamson’s gloves on its way to Buttler’s gloves. Williamson was visibly unhappy with the ball and pointed at the pitch to suggest that it was poor for a delivery to lift like that from that spot, but he had to leave and with him gone, the little fight that was there in the chase disappeared.

But while Williamson’s wicket made the final difference, victory was set up by England’s powerful batting effort after being put in to bat.

Jason Roy’s poor run continued, a struggling innings of 13 ending when he walked across his stumps and was bowled by the pacy Adam Milne. But with Root and Hales getting together, England stayed well on track. The duo added 81 in just 78 balls, Root showing exactly why he is among the foremost all-format batsmen in the world. He never looked in a hurry but was still gathering runs at a run a ball, driving and flicking with ease. Root’s tactical mastery was also on show, and he took the attack to Mitchell Santner, New Zealand’s only spinner. He hit a six and a four in the 18th over, targeting the shorter straight boundary for maximum and thus forcing Williamson to alter his plans by replacing Santner earlier than he would have liked.

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Williamson rotated his bowlers frequently to try and not let the batsmen settle, but while the strategy was sound, England’s batting might meant it had only limited success. Hales became Milne’s second victim, fooled by a slower ball right after smacking a six, but even though Eoin Morgan also fell soon after, England weren’t in any trouble at 134 for 3 in the 25th over.

Stokes joined Root and showed that none of his IPL batting form had left him. After a few balls for sighters, Stokes latched on to a short one from Corey Anderson to send it soaring over midwicket and was away. The feature of the fourth-wicket stand was the contrast between Stokes and Root. While the allrounder was happy to muscle the ball and found the fence regularly during his stay, England’s Test captain matched his strike-rate by rarely facing a dot ball. However, Stokes hogged a majority of the strike, facing 39 of the 54 balls the pair were together, and that eventually led to Root chopping Anderson on to end a 54-run stand.Stokes upper-cut Trent Boult straight to Milne at third-man four overs later to leave the score 210 for 5 in the 38th over, but that was where England’s batting depth came to the fore, even when two more wickets fell – Moeen Ali to a brilliant catch by Boult diving at short fine-leg.

Running out of partners, Buttler unleashed an array of stunning shots and backed it up by smart running to farm the strike. There was a ramp shot against a Boult bouncer outside off that almost went out of the ground, there was a flat-batted mow against Milne that was so flat you had to check twice that it had carried over long-off on the full. Buttler looked on course to take England past 320, but Tim Southee was rewarded for some fine bowling with two wickets in the final over to finish things off, and give the pacer figures of 2 for 44 in 9.3 overs.

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Chasing a big total, New Zealand needed the opening pair of Luke Ronchi and Martin Guptill to replicate their daredevilry against Australia, but Ronchi fell for a golden duck, castled by Jake Ball. In fact, Ball’s figures after two overs read 2-2-0-1, and with Wood keeping it fast and difficult at the other end too, New Zealand were staggering at the start. The first six overs produced just 12, but after that, Guptill and Williamson began opening out. They were both settling down nicely when Stokes’s golden arm had Guptill driving away from his body for Root to gobble him up at gully, leaving New Zealand 63 for 2.

New Zealand looked most stable when Williamson and Ross Taylor were putting together a 95-run stand, but stability masked the fact that Taylor was not able to score as quickly as the situation demanded. The partnership rode on Williamson’s shoulders, but when he fell to Wood, New Zealand needed 153 more from 118 balls – a task beyond the rest of the batting line-up. Taylor too, couldn’t convert his start into a bigger score, falling for 39. How crucial Williamson’s wicket was could be seen from the fact that New Zealand went from 158 for 2 to being bowled out in 14 overs for the addition of just 65 runs.

While England will seal the top spot in the group if they beat Australia in their final league match, New Zealand must now beat Bangladesh in their last game and also hope that Australia lose to England – if Williamson’s men are to qualify for the semifinals.

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