England Woes Worsen at the WACA

The England XI is quite simply not competitive in this Commonwealth Bank Series. In what was a must-win game in Perth today, they were easily accounted for by a keen but unconvincing New Zealand outfit.

At some point the ACB must surely apply the mercy rule and let them go home. They are almost no chance of making the finals now, and one must add, little more so of winning either of their remaining games.

They were almost painful to watch here, only just getting past the score required to deny New Zealand a bonus point.

Stephen Fleming won the toss for the Black Caps, and chose to bat first in what was to prove a low-quality, low-interest game. They were allowed to amass 318 runs in something like a cake-walk, and there seemed no real pressure or intensity from the bowling side — only missed chances, frustration, looseness and ineptitude.

New Zealand were never pushed to the dramatic, and constructive but unfashionable innings were made at a run a ball, but in far from an eye-catching manner. Jacob Oram aside, who impressed again with his swashbuckling ways, most of the kiwis were happy to turn the scoreboard over with singles.

Making matters worse, England offered 37 extras to the total, including 22 wides. This was disappointing slackness in a do-or-die match.

Fleming was out cheaply yet again, still looking hesitant at balls on a length outside off stump. In fact he only seemed happy when clipping off his pads. But as so often happens, that favourite shot was also his undoing, as Plunkett, the pick of the England bowlers, directed a perfect inswinger into his pads when on just 15.

Plunkett also had Peter Fulton out caught behind soon after, with a lovely length bowl that just deviated enough away from the right-hander to take the edge. But from there Lou Vincent and Ross Taylor took control, scoring 76 and 71 respectively in their 137-run stand.

Once they were eventually split in the thirty-fourth over, and Paul Nixon had removed McMillan with a sharp stumping off Panesar, Jacob Oram gave an encore performance of his thunderous century against Australia on Sunday night. 54 from 33 balls helped New Zealand to what felt at the time, and later proved to be, an unbeatable score against an England team decimated by injuries, mental scarring, and lost confidence.

Mal Loye, promoted to opener to allow for the cushioning of Andrew Strauss down the order at four, played some lovely aggressive strokes, and one wondered if perhaps he might be the panacea England have been searching for since Trescothick’s departure. But on 17 he slashed at a fullish and widish ball from Franklin, straight into the hands of Fleming at first slip. It was unfortunate to see him go, as he looks a real talent. Expect big things from him in the World Cup.

Ian Bell again looked uncomfortable, which is hard to watch in a number three. One expects a Ricky Ponting at first-man-down, and Bell is far from his class. Though better in the longer form of the game, where his scratchy-but-safe technique looks more at home, he doesn’t look a man able to dominate the bowling under any conditions or from any game-position — surely the job-description of a first-drop. He was out caught, meekly chipping Patel to midwicket for 31.

Then it was poor old Andrew Strauss’ turn. Would you believe he found yet another way to manufacture his dismissal? He was out stumped down the leg side after advancing ill-advisedly to Vettori, who saw him coming and directed a bullet through his splayed legs to keeper McCullum, who was wide awake to the ruse. It was a superb bit of bowling, reconfirming Vettori’s status as one of the game’s finest off-spinners, but one imagines that just one more bizarre failure will send Strauss to his old opening partner’s shrink.

It was left to Ed Joyce to hold things together, the Irishman looking the goods as a foil for the more outlandish Loye at opener. But on 66 he was done in by a… and this is the ultimate compliment… Symonds-esque run-out. Lou Vincent swooped on a prod to mid off, and in mid-dive, secured the ball in his right hand and released in the same motion, directing the ball unerringly into the near stump. It was as pretty a thing as you’ll see on a cricket field.

But after that, things got decidedly ugly. Neither team played well. Collingwood found a way to send an inert McMillan ball into the hands of short fine leg. And Flintoff was clean bowled sweeping a Vettori delivery that should probably have been dealt with straight down the ground.

Paul Nixon fought hard for 49, but played more dodgy inventions than effective cricket shots. Sweeps and reverse sweeps were pre-meditated, and most often missed, as all the while the required run rate ballooned out of sight.

In the end, New Zealand won easily, but not before embarrassing themselves in the field. Dropped catches galore in the final ten overs — including one that resulted in a six — and uncharacteristically sloppy ground fielding will have Fleming reading the riot act before they face Australia in the finals.

A match that held much promise didn’t even provide the scrap expected of two such evenly matched and desperate sides. And though New Zealand proved themselves to be clearly the superior side, they showed little, outside Oram’s explosive late-order batting and Vettori’s cunning off-spin, to suggest they are real contenders for the silverware.

Australia’s chances of an undefeated summer have only firmed.

New Zealand 7-318
Lou Vincent 76, Ross Taylor 71
Liam Plunkett 3-57, Monty Panesar 2-35

New Zealand won by 58 runs.

England 8-260
Ed Joyce 66, Paul Nixon 49
Craig McMillan 2-38, Daniel Vettori 2-40

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