England reach Com Bank Finals

England have saved their best to last in the Australian tour of 2006/2007, following their upset win over Australia on Friday with a comeback victory over New Zealand in a sudden-death match in Brisbane today to reach the finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series.

England, who welcomed back captain Michael Vaughan after his hamstring injury kept him out for a number of matches, started the match well when they won the toss and elected to bat first, but from there it started to look fairly grim. Shane Bond proved those who thought he may be past his best to be quite far off the mark as he produced the best opening spell he has bowled in quite some time, taking 2-9 from his first 5 overs including removing Vaughan for a golden duck and edging out the in-form Ian Bell. When Sydney centurion Ed Joyce followed for 26 New Zealand were clearly on top and a big partnership was needed.

That came in the unlikely form of Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood, two of the most out-of-form players in the tournament. They started tentatively, with Strauss lucky to survive a desperately close LBW shout from James Franklin, before starting to play more freely and putting together a partnership of over 100 that turned out to be one of the key periods of play in the match. Collingwood in particular played brilliantly, bringing up a magnificent century before being Bond’s fourth victim when clean bowled for 106 after possibly being distracted when partner Jamie Dalrymple bizarrely dropped his bat.

Bond was unlucky in that what looked like a fifth wicket turned into a 16-run 50th over as a fairly straightforward catch was put down by Peter Fulton and a flurry of boundaries followed, taking the England score through to 270-7, a very competitive total – but it didn’t seem that way early in New Zealand’s chase.

A disastrous start by Plunkett saw 11 runs scored in the first over, of which 9 came from wides. From there it seemed that the match was undoubtedly heading New Zealand’s way, with Lou Vincent and Stephen Fleming putting on 81 for the first wicket at a rate of over seven runs per over. Even when Michael Vaughan brought about the wicket of Vincent with some good field placings and choosing an excellent time to introduce spinner Monty Panesar to the attack, it still seemed that the match was heading New Zealand’s way.

At 169-2, New Zealand needed just 102 runs from 95 balls to book their place in the visitors’ changing rooms at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for Friday’s first final. But then the crucial moment came, as Fleming nudged a ball into the infield and called for a run before deciding against it and causing a total communication breakdown with Ross Taylor, who had been looking increasingly dangerous in moving through to 25 from 27 deliveries. The two batsmen were almost side by side as the ball was picked up and thrown to bowler Andrew Flintoff, and Taylor was well out of his ground when the bails were dislodged.

What followed was a collapse of remarkable magnitude, so violent was the shift in momentum that when Stephen Fleming completed an excellent return to form in bringing up his seventh one-day international hundred the crowd were treated to perhaps the most subdued celebration of a century ever witnessed at this level. Wickets tumbled, with the potentially destructive hitters Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum falling for 16, 5 and 2 respectively, the latter providing Flintoff with a well-deserved wicket after a fantastic spell of bowling that pulled back New Zealand’s alarmingly large run-rate and brought his team back into the contest.

In the end, despite some useful late hitting by James Franklin, New Zealand finished on 256-8, 14 runs short of England’s 270. England were a different team to the one seen earlier in the series, still reeling from their 5-0 Ashes defeats and being convincingly beaten by both Australia and New Zealand. They fully deserved their finals berth, producing two excellent performances in a row to edge past New Zealand on the table and send them back to the hotel to pack their bags for a return home.

England must now attempt to go into Friday’s first final without losing any of the momentum they’ve gained in order to achieve what must be considered an upset win over the world’s best one-day team, while New Zealand have to go home and face a barrage of deserved criticism after collapsing from a position in which it seemed inevitable that they would cruise to a comfortable victory to lose to a team ranked well below them in the ICC ODI rankings, and attempt to regroup ahead of the Chappell-Hadlee series in just under two weeks. The team face a lot of often unfair criticism in New Zealand media, but with performances like this they do nothing to silence the critics.

England 270-7
Paul Collingwood 106, Andrew Strauss 55
Shane Bond 4-46, James Franklin 1-45

England won by 14 runs.

New Zealand 256-8
Stephen Fleming 106, Lou Vincent 31
Liam Plunkett 3-60, Paul Collingwood 2-46

Cricket Web Player of the Match: Paul Collingwood – 106 (121) & 2-45

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