New Zealand defeated a new-look England side by five runs at the Oval to take a 1-0 lead in the two match T20 series.
England, short of many of their first choice players and led by Eoin Morgan, were made to suffer by some high-class batting from Hamish Rutherford and Brendan McCullum as the Kiwis posted an imposing target of 202 on a pleasant evening in South London.
In response, England came close but ultimately to no avail as Corey Anderson’s tight final over saw them fall five short.
Both sides left with their heads held high after an entertaining and high scoring match on a warm summer’s evening, but England’s makeshift side will be disappointed to fall so agonisingly short after Ben Stokes and the in-form Ravi Bopara could not quite carry them over the line.
Having chosen to field, England did not make life easy for themselves with a couple of dropped catches but McCullum and Rutherford’s batting was impressive, sharing a second wicket stand of 114 in 67 balls to set up victory.
Debutant Boyd Rankin had given England early hope, dismissing the dangerous James Franklin with his fourth delivery in an England shirt.
A fine batting surface made life easier for the New Zealand batters though, who forced England into using as many as seven bowlers. Rankin and Luke Wright aside, these bowlers took a pounding: Chris Woakes’ single over cost 19, while James Tredwell and Ravi Bopara, both so impressive in the Champions Trophy, went for a combined 64.
Just four players, Morgan, Bopara, Jos Buttler and Tredwell, remained from England’s team that lost the Champions Trophy in such dramatic style two days earlier, but New Zealand’s innings suggested they were still feeling the effects of the defeat. Rutherford and McCullum’s belligerent batting stole the show, but after both had fallen to Wright, there were useful contributions from Ross Taylor and Tom Latham to compound England’s half-time blues.
England’s batting got off to a fine start with solid early innings contributions from Michael Lumb (29) and Alex Hales (39), who has struggled for form in recent weeks, with 11 single-figure scores in 13 innings for Nottinghamshire.
Once again, Luke Wright was the star, smashing 52 from 34 balls, but his dismissal, caught behind at the end of the 14th over with 63 still required, was ill-timed and made life difficult for England.
For many years, Wright has seemed something of a bits and pieces cricketer, but after some well-paid stints in some of the world’s most famous T20 leagues, he appears to be maturing into a T20 all rounder of the highest order and may yet have a role to play in England’s ODI side.
The home side looked to have squandered an excellent position but battled on bravely and ended up coming very close to a victory that looked unlikely at the half way stage.
With Eoin Morgan caught at slip after some typically attacking and innovative captaincy from McCullum, England required some lusty blows from the much-maligned Bopara and some typically innovative work from Buttler to leave them requiring just 18 off the last eight balls after Buttler was run out after some very fortuitous work from wicketkeeper Latham. As the pair looked to scamper a bye after a failed paddle shot, the keeper shied at the striker’s end, missed, but still managed to strike at the non-striker end, catching his opposite number, Buttler, napping.
The sellout crowd remained confident, with Bopara’s name echoing in all corners of the Oval (something that seemed incredibly unlikely just a month ago).
Also confident ahead of the last over was T20 captain Stuart Broad, rested for these two matches against the Kiwis, who had faith in Bopara to see England over the line.
He tweeted: "This has been a cracker! The Oval looks like its bouncing! Come on Ravi!! Be the man!!"
Stokes launched the first ball of the final over for a maximum, leaving 10 required off the last five deliveries but Anderson kept it incredibly tight, however, conceding no more boundaries, to guide his side to victory.
On a night that showcased everything that the T20 dream is about - boisterous sellout crowds, warm summers evenings and high-scoring and entertaining cricket - England fell just short of their highest chase in T20 cricket and a memorable victory. However after an engrossing evening, they will return to the Oval on Thursday in good spirits, led by the reinvigorated Luke Wright and their new cult hero Ravi Ropara and buoyed by the possible return of star batsman Kevin Pietersen.
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