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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Close finish diverts attention from weaknesses in both sides

In today's National Bank (as Mark Nicholas incorrectly described it at the beginning of his first commentary stint) match at Hobart, England , who had looked the better side for most of the game somehow struggled to get over the line by three wickets with one ball remaining. At least it was a win, their first of the tour.

At the start of the innings James Anderson bowled belligerently. Jon Lewis at the other end had neither the pace nor the accuracy to complement this, so the runs flowed more fluently than they did than in the rest of the innings. Despite this wickets fell steadily to Anderson, then Flintoff and Collingwood, who made the most of the conditions and his ability.

A partnership of 39 for the 8th wicket, the largest of the innings, took NZ to within striking distance of 200, which was duly achieved - just - as the last two overs produced only 9 runs.

9/205 looked well short of par, though Nathan Astle, who topscored with 45, said in an interview between innings that batting wasn't easy. At the time I took that with a pinch of salt, yet he turned out to be right, as England stolidly constructed what they hoped was a launching platform for a later assault. They too lost wickets, the first at 39 as Michael Vaughan, whose leg was causing him sufficient problems to require a runner, pulled Franklin without much conviction to midwicket. The next wicket was the result of an umpiring blunder as Strauss(who else?) was adjudged l b w by Umpire Davis. Replays showed a substantial deflection from bat to pad.

The NZ pace attack was not as hostile as England's: James (as Bill Lawry called him at one point) Bond and Mark Gillespie lacked the impressive nip they'd shown against Australia on Sunday, but spinners Vettori and Patel in the middle of the innings and, at the death, the dibbly dobblers Astle and McMillan kept things in check despite Andrew Flintoff's counterpunching. A crucial moment came at 8/185 in the 47th over when Flintoff was reprieved: caught from a Gillespie full toss which Umpire Davis no balled for being above waist high. The replay showed that there was some justification for the call.

NZ refused to wallow in their disappointment at the no ball call, whereas England, who should have cantered home from that position, faltered in the face of their opponents' tenacity. At 198 Nixon was run out (another close third umpire call) and at 201 Dalrymple was brilliantly caught in the gully by Patel (who fielded brilliantly today: I retract my previous imputation about him being an underperformer in that department).

At start of the 50th over Lewis was facing (they'd taken a single off the last ball of the 49th!) and 4 runs were needed to win. Here's what happened over: . 1 2 . 1 - and the match won. Just.

A good game because of the low scoring and the closeness, but one which showed that both teams are well short of Australia's standard. Flintoff was the difference between the two sides: I'd like to see him do something like this against Australia.

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