You can relax now. At least for a few days. England are through to the semis after a comfortable win against a sloppy New Zealand team that never really showed up. We batted really well at the outset (when the pitch was at its best) and then bowled really well to seal the win.
Thank **** for that! Today was a good day. Chewing our fingernails to the bone before play started was unnecessary after all.
Joking aside, I was always extremely confident that England would win for two primary reasons: (a) I’d read that the pitch looked excellent for batting so our achilles heel was never likely to be exposed, and (b) New Zealand didn’t actually need to win. They just needed not to get thrashed to progress. It was a really strange situation.
Consequently this game felt a bit like one of those final group games in a football World Cup – those games when one team is basically through and the other team plays with a lot more intensity and desire because they desperately need all three points.
The result of these contests is rarely really in doubt – unless the latter team squanders chance after chance in front of goal because their strikers can’t handle the pressure.
Fortunately for England, however, our nerves didn’t really surface until we’d already made a storming start with the bat. Yes we collapsed in a bit of a heap towards the end of our innings, but as the pitch was conveniently beginning to slow down already I suspected we had more than enough runs in the bank.
Before play started, I thought the only way we’d lose is if we lost the toss and batted second. My fear was that we’d implode chasing a middling total. Once it was known England were batting first all my nerves disappeared. New Zealand, after all, wouldn’t actually need to chase the total we set them. They’d merely need to get relatively close to progress.
The problem with this situation is that it creates unnatural cricket. The commentators might build up the drama for TV purposes – and the fans emotionally invested will be too nervous to see it – but we were essentially watching a game with very little intensity.
It was always going to be the case that as soon as New Zealand lost a couple of wickets, they’d immediately start thinking about their target (i.e what they realistically might need to progress) rather than the game target. After all, why go for broke (and risk losing more wickets and suffering a bigger defeat) if you can just plod along and play the qualification percentages?
In the end, however, New Zealand ended up confusing themselves. And in doing so they ended up risking the one thing they wanted to guard against from the start: a heavy defeat. Their brains seemed scrambled by a series of unlikely events:
England lucked out by getting an early LBW against Nicholls (a real clanger by the umpire) and then the out-of-form Guptill was dismissed. Taylor and Williamson rebuilt slowly – showing about as much urgency as India (another team that didn’t need to win) the other day – and then England enjoyed another outrageous piece of fortune when Williamson was run out at the non-striker’s end.
Fancy getting out the oppositions best player like that?! England were in dreamland. New Zealand must have wondered what had hit them.
New Zealand’s panic really set in at this point. Ross Taylor took on a second run that simply wasn’t there – what on earth was he thinking? – and the middle-order collapsed in a heap. Once again I imagine the conspiracy theorists were having a field day.
I actually started to write this report when New Zealand had six wickets left. The result was inevitable. I guessed New Zealand could take singles to make the score respectable – singles England would be only too pleased to give them – and both teams walk away content with what was always the most likely result at the start … an England win by 50 runs. In the end New Zealand made a right Horlicks of things and lost by more. They must be gutted.
The surreal circumstances of New Zealand’s innings, however, shouldn’t detract from what was a superb England performance in the field. Once again our bowlers were terrific, and they’re coming into form at precisely the right time. Rashid had a bit of an off day but the seamers were were generally superb for the second consecutive game. It’s highly encouraging.
Although the batting was a bit of a mixed bag again, at least we’re getting used to that winning feeling. And that should raise morale. Roy and Bairstow needed a little luck early on again, but thereafter they were superb. Roy has shown no rustiness whatsoever, and Jonny is going from strength to strength.
The only slight concern is that Jos Buttler probably needs a score. Fortunately form is temporary and class is permanent, so maybe it’s a good thing that he’s due a score as we enter the business end of the tournament?
However, for all my optimism today – those following my Twitter feed probably witnessed by supreme (over?)confidence – I’m going to leave you with one highly neurotic thought. And it concerns the wiles of Lady Luck. Hell, I may even purchase Ed Smith’s book Luck: What It Means & Why It Matters?
Here goes …
If one subscribes to the theory that teams make their own luck then you shouldn’t be worried moving forward. England are playing good cricket again so their hot steak will surely continue.
However if, like me, you think that luck evens itself out (i.e. over a season / tournament etc) then you might have slight cause for concern.
There’s no doubt that England have enjoyed plenty of luck since their debacle against Australia. We’ve encountered two pitches that really suited us; we’ve won crucial tosses in both games; we’ve played and missed more than the opposition; we’ve hit more aerial shots narrowly out of the grasp of fielders (particularly at the start); and crucially we’ve played teams that didn’t even need to win. That Williamson run out today – an absolutely crucial intervention by Lady Luck – just about summed up our lucky streak.
The problem, of course, is what happens if our luck turns in the semi final or final? These games are, after all, the fixtures we’ve been worried about for approximately two years. Does our luck in the last two games dictate that we’ll lose crucial tosses from here on out? Does it mean that Joe Root will be the one run out at the non-strikers end? Is every aerial shot henceforth destined to end up in an opposition fielder’s breadbasket?
If you believe that luck evens out (in the end) then England are screwed! However, you might feel that the good luck we’ve enjoyed in the last week or so is simply making up for all the bad luck we’ve had in World Cups gone by: that Gatting reverse-sweep, Pakistan’s ball tampering in the 1992 final (just kidding), Kevin O’Brien’s once-in-a-lifetime assault in that humiliation against Ireland. What do you reckon?
Now obviously this is just a bit of fun. And probably about as ridiculous a discussion as we’ve ever had on this blog (and heavens we’ve had a few). But don’t go telling me to chill out because luck is just a random event. After all, randomness is surely governed by probability. And probability dictates that statistically things will eventually return to the mean … in which case luck does indeed even out!
PS Notice a small globe in the corner of your screen? This is our new discussion tool courtesy of the guys at Conversful. It enables you to engage in live chat with anyone who’s currently reading this page. Clever eh?!
Just click the globe, enter your name, and talk about whatever you like. Your comments will not appear in the comments section. It’s something we’re trialling and I think it might be fun.