Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Bad start sets tone for Caps

New Zealand's nose-dive to 11 for three in the eighth over was the key moment which ended hopes of consecutive one-day international series victories after the inaugural triumph in South Africa.

It was a shame because entering the ground yesterday, there was a sense of a return to one-day cricket's halcyon days; only with more sun cream and fewer 'stubbies' shorts among the 17,530 patrons than 30 years ago. There was anticipation - even expectation - at witnessing a series decider.

Instead, all New Zealand fans got were useful swats from Brendon McCullum on his way to 79 off 68 balls and a couple of Tim Southee bowling gems to dismiss Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott on his way to figures of three for 48. Otherwise New Zealand produced a ragged batting performance which conked out with 37 balls to spare on what appeared an adequate pitch.

It's hard enough to defend 185 in any circumstances, let alone Eden Park with its current dimensions. When the "give us our ball back" chant got into full swing on the old terraces as security departed with a beach ball, you knew public interest had waned.

At least England's five-wicket victory will have saved cash on electricity. The light bulb filaments were hardly strained as England coasted home with 75 balls to spare.

New Zealand's total was their lowest batting first at Eden Park in 10 years (for matches not affected by rain). McCullum and Andrew Ellis (eight off 10 balls) were the only batsmen with strike rates over 60.

Making matters worse was what's understood to be an abdominal strain to McCullum which saw BJ Watling keep wicket. The skipper directed the team's sinking fortunes from the field.

The New Zealand batsmen did warrant some sympathy. The relentless line and length from England's bowlers was reinforced by fielders not missing balls or dropping catches. It was suffocation. There were few opportunities to take advantage of the short, straight boundaries. Of the pace bowlers, Jimmy Anderson gave the ball enough curvature both ways to be troublesome, Steve Finn presented a perpendicular seam and awkward bounce, Stuart Broad was consistent and Chris Woakes metronomic.

Proof came when Taylor baulked late at some movement beyond the sightscreen and Woakes continued his action, cannoning the dead ball into the top of off stump.

Watling struggled against Finn's bounce, which remains an area to work on for the test matches, presuming he is selected. The England bowling also cramped the New Zealanders to a point where applying correct footwork was difficult; the top four all edged out behind the wicket. Rutherford's dismissal was the classic. Finn produced his worst ball wide outside off stump in his third over and Rutherford got an edge attempting to flay it. Finn finished with England's best figures of three for 27 from nine overs. Runs in general were rare for New Zealand. England produced three straight maiden overs (two of them wicket maidens) from overs six, seven and eight. They bowled 70 dot balls in the first 15 overs. That was largely the theme, except for a brief McCullum fusillade which began against Finn in the batting powerplay.

New Zealand produced other needless casualties. Grant Elliott was the victim of Ross Taylor's indecision attempting a second run after playing a shot towards one of several crop circle formations mown into the outfield at backward square leg. Finn produced the champion throw. It was a waste after Elliott had worked hard getting to 24. He looked livid ... and fair enough. That incident was backed up by lithe fielding from Eoin Morgan and Joe Root.

England's top order took a collective deep breath, composed themselves and smoothly dissected the New Zealand bowling with strokes rather than slogs. They paced themselves to the target. Kyle Mills lacked the venom he'd shown in Hamilton but took a spectacular boundary catch to dismiss Morgan; Ellis was tidy but manageable; and Southee coaxed false shots from Trott (38) and Cook (46).

Much like the result in Napier where England lost just two wickets, New Zealand might have a wider problem burrowing into their batting order during the tests. The pressure is already mounting on Southee, as New Zealand's premier strike bowler and someone who genuinely stirs the crowd, to perform in the test series.

Otherwise some long, hot days in the field are ahead.

New Zealand185
England186/5

- Herald on Sunday

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