Watching a merciless New Zealand pulverise England has not been a rare occurrence over the years, but the latest harrowing defeat has little in common with its predecessors.
This was not a battle of 15 against 15. There was no fearsome Maori war dance before proceedings began. This was not rugby. This was cricket. Yet such was the unforgiving brutality of the Black Caps, this procession would not have looked alien had it taken place on a rectangular field.
Procession. This was not a match. A match requires a contest between two teams. After skittling England for just 123, New Zealand needed only 74 deliveries to hunt down their target. They faced no resistance, no struggle. This was not a fight. More, a sacrifice.
The captains personify their teams and their fortunes. There is Brendon McCullum. Baz. Under his attacking leadership, New Zealand have found the concoction to win. In the field, he ratcheted up the pressure wicket after wicket, going for the jugular in a way others wouldn’t. Who else would keep the slip cordon intact well into the mid-section of the innings? There was no consolidating once Tim Southee blasted through the middle-order. No holding him back unless he was needed later. Southee ensured there was to be no later. His seven wickets for 33 marked the best figures by a New Zealander in ODIs as England were all-out with one-third of their innings still remaining.
With rapier in hand, McCullum was equally devastating. A ferocious 77 from 25 sent the Wellington crowd delirious, a barrage of eight fours and seven maximums. He also recorded the fastest 50 in World Cup history. 18 balls. Eighteen.
Then there is England’s captain, Eoin Morgan. The contrast could not be greater. A confidence-shot Morgan had managed three ducks and a two in his four previous innings, and was in the midst of a month-long boundary drought. After making 17 scratchy runs, he was dismissed when a failed drive off Daniel Vettori was snaffled by Adam Milne, who took a magnificent diving catch. While a couple of Southee’s swinging pearlers were simply too good, brainless batting from others was less excusable. Gary Ballance – whose World Cup involvement following a five-month ODI lay-off is mystifying – succeeded only in chipping a shortish ball with width to short cover. Soon after, with England in dire straits, Stuart Broad played a nothing shot that looped straight to Vettori at mid-off – indefensible for a player of his experience. Joe Root, who dug in for an admirable 46, is the only Englishman who can look at his effort from this match with any sense of pride.
Bowling was always going to be a fruitless task, but even the most hardened of pessimists would have been surprised at just how toothless the response was. Two overs for 49 would be some achievement on a video game. But that is exactly what McCullum plundered Steven Finn for. Tame, welcoming bowling saw nine of his 12 balls reach the fence, six of them without bouncing – including four consecutively. Two New Zealand wickets may have fallen in the chase, but their memory will survive only in print. This was their utopian day.
So far, the Morgan era has served only to continue Alastair Cook’s legacy rather than end it. England’s one-day style is meek, scared even. Despite the glut of ODIs in recent months, England are still without ideas to post 300 – a score rapidly becoming the modern-day par – and are clueless as to containing the opposition with the ball.
Losses against Australia and New Zealand – two of the favourites for the tournament – are not terminal for England’s World Cup bid, the nature of the defeats is however, far more telling. Winning the coin-flip twice has resulted in leaking 342, and being bundled for 123. The opposition has been good, but not that good. Qualification hopes rest in beating Scotland, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It isn’t beyond the realms but nothing has been done to instill confidence. Their next match, a meeting with Scotland, may be a virtual knockout. Their reward for beating the trio mentioned would likely see them rewarded with a quarter-final tie against South Africa. Poms, the glass is half-full, right?
It most certainly is for New Zealand. This tournament presents a chance to banish the perennial semi-finalists tag – a feat they have achieved no fewer than six times. Everything is slotting into place. The batting. So powerful. The bowling. So efficient. The fielding. So well drilled. But perhaps most importantly, their leader’s burning fire has engulfed the rest. No longer are New Zealand the tricky, plucky outsiders. Attributed to them now is the ‘fearsome’ tag so regularly applied to their Oceanic neighbour.
Captains in limited-overs cricket can sometimes seem irrelevant in comparison to their Test counterparts. But captaincy runs deeper than who must bowl when, and what field placements should be set. This match described that more eloquently than words ever could.