We told you Jos Buttler was brilliant, it’s just taken a little while for him to prove it.
England’s ‘solid start, explosive finish’ tactics haven’t exactly been a roaring success in the first two games of this series, but here they worked perfectly. Messrs Trott, Root and (particularly) Bell provided the platform, Messrs Morgan and Buttler the finish. The only fly in the ointment was Ravi Bopara, whose batting continues to fall away like a Sunday afternoon drive with Thelma and Louise.
For all his obvious talent, this was an important innings for Buttler. An ODI average of 9.00 wasn’t exactly a glowing recommendation for England’s decision to go with him behind the stumps ahead of both Craig Kieswetter and Jonny Bairstow but this innings demonstrated the sort of show-stopping performance that he’s been producing for Somerset for a few years now. It’s probably fair to say that no-one else in English cricket can do quite what he does, at least now that Mark Ealham is no longer strutting his stuff. Whether he (Buttler) was helped by a move down to number seven, and therefore an arrival at the crease with little time remaining and complete freedom to have a go, is something of a moot point – he’s more than capable of building an innings over a longer period of time before cutting loose. Far more important is the fact that England won’t be able to spectacularly bail themselves out from an extremely slow start every single time. Basically, what we’re saying is please never pick Ravi Bopara again.
Another big plus for England was James Tredwell. He doesn’t look like a professional sportsman (although not in a Samit Patel type way) but he continues to do a decent job at every opportunity. Using two spinners hasn’t really been part of England’s ODI plans – plans that were probably set in stone back in the Jurassic era – but it looks like it might be a genuinely viable option over the next three weeks.
A game too far for New Zealand. Despite a bright start, the tumble of wickets in the boring middle overs meant that this chase was always going to be slightly beyond them. They’ll still be understandably chuffed with a series win though, and head into the Champions Trophy as dark horses. The balance of the side is still a bit questionable – James Franklin bowling four or five expensive overs and batting at number seven is basically an admission that they really miss Dan Vettori – and Brendon McCullum can’t buy a run, but there’s clearly something to work with. Ross Taylor appears to be completely over his Pune nightmare as well.
Both sides now have just a couple of days to mull things over before the real business starts. England take on Australia on Saturday, a game in which they must be firm favourites, based on last year’s 4-0 drubbing of the same opposition (who were bowled out for 65 just a day ago). Meanwhile New Zealand face Sri Lanka on Sunday in Cardiff. Given their performances in this series and the fact that they’ve spent the last two months acclimatising to the conditions in Wales – particularly that day at the Test match when it just wouldn’t stop raining – New Zealand must also start as favourites.