England qualified for the semifinals of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament on Tuesday with an emphatic eight-wicket win against New Zealand in a Group A clash at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
England, bolstered by a classy Joe Root, who managed 64 off 65 balls, Alex Hales, who struck a belligerent 56 off 62 balls, and Jos Buttler, who exhibited some creative genius in his undefeated 61 off 48 balls, notched 310 in their 50 overs.
New Zealand replied with 223.
The Kiwis’ middle- and lower order were undone by the class of an England attack who hardly possessed any weaknesses.
Liam Plunkett was the pick of the attack with 4-55 in 9.3 overs. Jake Ball nipped out 2-31, whil legspinner Adil Rashid ended with 2-47.
New Zealand looked promising while their two top-order champions, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, were at the crease and shared in a 95-run partnership off 16.5 overs.
But once Williamson perished off a snorter of a delivery from Mark Wood for a composed 87 off 98 balls, the innings fell away alarmingly and the run-rate spiralled out of control.
From 158 for three, New Zealand faded. The middle-order failed to match the class, boundary pounding and especially the composure of England’s numbers six, seven and eight.
‘IMPRESSIVE SEAM ATTACK’
The England attack was impressive, with Wood, Ball, Plunkett and Ben Stokes all excellent.
Ball produced the perfect start for England. He removed Luke Ronchi in the first over with a delivery that nipped back appreciably and the visitors were reduced to 1-1.
The hosts bowled seam up, as Wood and Ball nipped the ball away and into the right-handed batsmen at pace and hardly gave Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill any width to free their arms.
Eoin Morgan also strategically placed Stokes at a wide gully to prevent Williamson from collecting singles at will to third man.
Williamson and Martin Guptill gradually moved the Black Caps along by seeking different scoring areas.
Guptill, when given any width, powered it past point.
Guptill hammered Stokes through mid-wicket in the 14th over, but the next delivery was a wide half volley and Guptill drove loosely, presenting Root at second slip with a catch when on 27. New Zealand were reduced to 63 for two after 13.3 overs.
Williamson and Taylor grafted and guided the Black Caps to 100 in 21.3 overs. Williamson laboured a touch against a disciplined attack. The Kiwi captain reached his 50 off 66 balls with three fours.
Plunkett hit Williamson on the grill and asked persistent questions. Stokes, meanwhile, bowled several potential wicket-taking deliveries, although he was less consistent than Plunkett.
Williamson gave the innings some impetus by targeting legspinner Adil Rashid and hitting nine runs in the 24th over. Taylor and the skipper completed their 50-run partnership off 58 balls. The visitors reached 123 for two after 24 overs.
The skipper lifted the run-rate by clipping and cutting the attacking Stokes for 11 overs in the next over, slowly swinging the pendulum in New Zealand’s favour.
While Taylor is prolific square of the wicket or over mid-wicket, Williamson is more of a 360-degree player. He played a beautiful chip off Wood when he returned for a second spell and New Zealand reached 150 in 28 overs.
But Wood found an extra gear, bowling a cross-seam delivery that bounced and nipped slightly away to remove New Zealand’s prolific and talismanic figure, Williamson, for 87.
It was one of those world-class deliveries that would have accounted for most top-class batsmen.
The skipper faced 98 balls, hitting eight fours and the visitors were reduced to 158 for three after 30.2 overs.
‘TAYLOR WICKET – TURNING POINT’
With Williamson gone, Taylor had to take over the role of aggressor. He played a slog in order to find the boundary in the 34th over and was caught at mid-wicket off Ball for 39 as the visitors slipped to 168 for four.
That was the turning point. From there, England did not look back.
James Neesham had a more gung-ho approach than his predecessors, but holed out to Hales off Plunkett for 18 at deep square leg.
Neil Broom, attempting a pull shot off Rashid followed in the 38th over as he was trapped in front for 11 and New Zealand slipped to 194 for six.
Mitchell Santner followed in the 41st over, stumped by Butler off legspinner Rashid and New Zealand were stuttering on 205 for seven.
Plunkett saw Corey Anderson advancing, produced a bouncer and the lower middle-order batsman holed out to Hales at square leg for 10.
The England seam bowler repeated his heroics when Adam Milne went down town and was caught at mid-off by Rashid.
Plunkett wrapped it up when Tim Southee was caught at deep mid-wicket by Jason Roy for two as New Zealand plummeted to 223 all out.
Earlier, England played with a fearless, positive mind-set, attacking relentlessly and finished on 310.
The England teams of previous generations were more sedate, more circumspect. But the team under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan almost possesses the cricketing DNA and approach of Australia when at the peak of their powers.
There are no hand-brakes, no reverse gear. They don’t relent. They keep on pounding the boundary ropes.
Hales put England on top. He shared in a 91-run partnership for the second wicket with Root.
Root, fresh from an unbeaten 133 against Bangladesh, played care-free cricket, rotating the strike with contemptuous ease. He struck the ball over the inner ring whenever anything was a tad full.
He only perished when he was denied the strike in his 54-run partnership with Ben Stokes. Root was starved of strike, facing 22 balls in 12 overs.
That frustration forced him into playing a shot slightly out of character as he dragged a delivery by Corey Anderson onto his stumps with his score on 64. He hammered four fours and two sixes in his innings.
The belligerent Stokes peppered the leg-side boundaries in his 52-ball 48, but found Adam Milne’s secure hands on the third-man boundary when Trent Boult changed his line of attack and planted it wide of his off-stump.
Butler, when inserted, took the attack to New Zealand and played an innings full of unorthodox, innovative and audacious shots that won’t necessarily be part of any coaching manual.
His undefeated 61 off 48 balls pushed England from 221 for five after 40 overs to 310.
Anderson, with 3-55 in nine overs, and Milne, with 3-79 collected key wickets, but Tim Southee, with 2-44, and Boult, with 1-54, were the pick, especially at the business-end of the innings.
ENGLAND: Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (capt), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Jake Ball
NEW ZEALAND: Martin Guptill, Luke Ronchi (wk), Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Neil Broom, James Neesham, Corey Anderson, Mitchell Santner, Adam Milne, Tim Southee, Trent Boult