“It’s been a great learning day for us,” said Eoin Morgan after a chastening defeat in the third T20I at Nelson. It wasn’t exactly said with relish, but there was obvious conviction in his words as he offered up a subtle variation on one of the abiding themes of his England captaincy.
Throughout England’s four-year rise to become the 50-over world champions, Morgan’s reaction to their intermittent setbacks had been to present an unapologetic public face – “no, we will not stop playing our natural attacking game” – even if, in private, he was obliged to give a more honest appraisal of scorelines such as 20 for 6 against South Africa at Lord’s in 2017, or 8 for 5 against Australia at Adelaide.
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The difference in those contests, of course, was England’s focus was on fine-tuning a team that was already good enough to take on the world, so presenting an unshakeable belief in the men and the methods was a key part of the process. The remit at this stage of this new-look outfit, on the other hand, couldn’t really be much more different.
With the next T20 World Cup only a year away, and with a raft of automatic picks taking a well-earned break, the value of days such as occurred on Tuesday, when England squandered five wickets for ten runs in 18 balls to throw away an enviable chance to go 2-1 up in the series, will only be known in hindsight, if the players concerned take on board the lessons and process them for their next crunch encounter.
That said, England have had previous of learning on the hoof in this format. Their run to the final of the World T20 in 2016 was built on a wide-eyed acceptance of the team’s relative naivety, as the team took their licks (not least from Chris Gayle in Mumbai) and found the appropriate response, as players such as Jason Roy and Jos Buttler had the first proper flex of their muscles on the world stage. Had it not been for Carlos Brathwaite’s epic finale in Kolkata, they’d have had more to show for their studiousness than a handful of happy memories.
The relative stakes could hardly be lower in this particular series – a post-World Cup fever dream being played beyond the other side of the world, and in a time-zone that deters even the most hardened of English night-owls from tuning in to pay attention. But the opportunity to bed into the fabric of the England set-up, and get some hard-earned experience without attracting any definitive judgements from a public that is broadly speaking looking the other way.
That said, they are up against an opponent that really rather fancies getting one over their World Cup vanquishers. New Zealand took their time to find their range in this series after a stutter in the opening match. But with Colin de Grandhomme swinging from the hip in the middle order and Martin Guptill threatening to find some form at the top, they’ve got the weapons to put England’s rookie-dominated outfit under yet more pressure.
England LLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WWLLW
In the spotlight
With six of England’s new boys on display in their last outing, there was all the more expectation placed on the team’s relative old sweats … and to varying degrees, they missed the chance to stamp their mark on the contest. But while Dawid Malan and James Vince produced the raw materials for an England victory, it was Sam Billings’ second-ball run-out that really started the rot in the run-chase. That moment also took his series tally to a meagre 23 runs in three innings (albeit with one not-out), and continued the impression of a cricketer who just can’t quite seize the mantle as England’s next cab off the rank. A terrible shoulder injury wrecked his World Cup hopes – he would surely have challenged James Vince for the final batting spot – and his last England innings prior to this tour was a blistering 87 against West Indies in Basseterre. But a white-ball average of 19.00 in what is now a four-year England career is not going to keep him in the frame forever.
Welcome back Trent Boult, we’ve been expecting you. New Zealand’s outstanding left-arm quick slots back into the squad after missing the first three games to focus on his red-ball form ahead of the Test series – and four second-innings wickets for Northern Districts in last weekend’s Plunket Shield confirmed his rhythm on that front. However, in T20Is he’s been a bit of a spare part in recent years. He hasn’t featured in any of New Zealand’s last 13 matches dating back to the tri-series final against Australia in Auckland in February 2018. That could be put down largely to the prioritisation of 50-over cricket in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup but, with back-to-back T20 World Cups on the horizon, this is the start of his rebirth in this format. The fact that he’s been something of a fixture for Delhi in the IPL in between whiles suggests he won’t find it too hard to pick up the appropriate rhythm.
Boult’s return to the fray means that it is Lockie Ferguson’s turn to take a break from the front line. He’s not yet made a New Zealand Test debut, but with a round of Plunket Shield fixtures beginning tonight, it’s not out of the question that he could feature again on this England tour. Blair Tickner, a tall and strapping seamer, looked the part in his first outing of the series – and only his second in international cricket – and in bagging both Tom Banton and James Vince in his day’s work, he was one of the linchpins of New Zealand’s win and deserves another chance. Daryl Mitchell and Scott Kuggeleijn may be the men to miss out.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Tim Seifert (wk), 4 Colin de Grandhomme, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Tim Southee (capt), 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Blair Tickner
England are eager to find out what their new boys are made of – and all six of them featured in the Nelson defeat. But they are equally keen to return home with a series win, and at 2-1 down with two to play, the likelihood is that they revert back to some more tried-and-trusted options. In particular, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Jordan can expect to slot back into the starting XI after sitting out the third fixture, though who makes way for them could be an interesting decision. Tom Banton, underused so far, is surely worth another look – otherwise why bother bringing him all this way – so James Vince, whose three innings have been a microcosm of his promise and frustration, might be the fall guy. Likewise Matt Parkinson, impressive in his two overs at Nelson, is surely worth testing in a must-win contest.
England (possible): 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 Tom Banton, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Sam Billings (wk), 6 Lewis Gregory, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Tom Curran, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Matt Parkinson, 11 Pat Brown
Pitch and conditions
The solitary floodlit fixture of this five-match series is being played on a drop-in pitch at another of New Zealand’s rugby-dominant venues, with their habitually short square boundaries that will doubtless challenge any spinner who dares to lose his length.
Stats and trivia
Napier is hosting only its second T20I. New Zealand won the ground’s inaugural fixture, against Bangladesh in January 2017, by six wickets. The absent Kane Williamson anchored the run-chase on that occasion with 73 not out from 55 balls, but Colin de Grandhomme – Man of the Match in their last outing at Nelson – provided the final flourish with 41 from 22 balls.
McLean Park is situated in a curiously suburban corner of Napier, albeit a short stroll from the Art Deco-dominated town centre that was extensively rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1931.
Stats that matter
Tim Southee still requires two wickets to become the eighth man to claim 75 T20I wickets, having gone wicketless in his last outing.
Adil Rashid requires one more wicket to draw level with Jade Dernbach as the fourth-highest T20I wicket-taker for England. Dernbach took 39 T20I wickets – only Graeme Swann (51), Chris Jordan (52) and Stuart Broad (65) have more for England.
Colin Munro requires 35 runs to draw level with Kane Williamson’s run-tally of 1,505 for New Zealand in T20Is. Munro has played one more game (58 to 57), though Williamson has batted once more often. Only three men (Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor) have scored more T20I runs for New Zealand than Williamson.
“Rossco [Taylor] has been asking for freebies all week, but I know he’s got a hefty wallet, so he’ll be paying in full.” Café owner Blair Tickner isn’t caving to his team-mates demands for free coffee
“The summer was tragic for me and my family and I like to think that I’ve used what happened in July to spur me on. If I hadn’t used it in a positive way, then I don’t think I’d be here playing for England.”
Matt Parkinson is proud of how he responded to the recent death of his mother, Maria