The odds on England winning the Champions Trophy on home soil this month, a competition for which they were widely if slightly patriotically rated as favourites this time last week, had been travelling only in one direction since the start of the NatWest series against New Zealand.
After they had been so comprehensively outplayed in the second match in Southampton at the weekend, they drifted as far out as 7-1 with some bookmakers – leaving them rated behind even such global laughing stocks as Australia.
For the first 45 overs of their innings at Trent Bridge, nothing had happened to lift the gathering gloom over England's prospects. Then Ravi Bopara lofted Kane Williamson to Ross Taylor at deep midwicket, allowing Jos Buttler to join Eoin Morgan. By the time Buttler returned to the pavilion 27 minutes later, the mood was a good deal more upbeat – and England's odds were coming down again.
The quiet 22-year-old from Taunton has that sort of natural, thrilling, uplifting ability. In addition to the 47 he plundered from only 16 balls faced, Buttler seemed to infuse Morgan with confidence that could prove equally valuable to England when the serious business starts at the weekend.
Actually it was Morgan who launched the late onslaught, carting Mitchell McClenaghan over midwicket for England's second six of the day – and only their third of the series – off the penultimate ball of the 47th over. But it was Buttler's deconstruction of Kyle Mills in the next over that transformed the England innings.
The first ball was short, and a muscular pull sent it soaring over wide long on. "He'll get the ramp out now," chuckled a couple of old pros in the press box, as Mills sought the extra protection of a deep midwicket but had to bring his fine leg inside the circle as a result. Forewarned is a long way from forearmed against Buttler, however, as somehow he diverted a full delivery outside off stump over the head of that short fine leg.
The next ball also went for four, this time a comparatively orthodox dismissal of a half-volley between the two men on the legside boundary, before another moment of breathtaking audacity, this time a reverse ramp – hard to find in the MCC coaching manual – which just cleared short third man. Mills could then claim a moral victory as he deceived Buttler with a lack of pace for a hard-earned and welcome dot. But the sixth ball, another slower one, was swatted straight back over his head to complete 22 from the over – more than England had scored in the first eight of their innings.
For the first time in a long time New Zealand were under pressure. McClenaghan, who had taken three for 23 in his first eight overs, conceded 20 in his last, which was extended to 10 balls as he bowled two wides and two no-balls. Then Tim Southee went for another 22 in the 50th – Morgan hitting his third six before falling a single short of a first half century in more than a dozen innings since early April, and Buttler offering two further indications of his power. First he launched on to the top tier of the Hound Round Stand at long on, and the next ball crashed into the reinforced glass of the chief executive's office at the foot of the big screen scoreboard.
He had shown this sort of spectacular ability before, most memorably in hitting 30 off a single over from Wayne Parnell against South Africa in a Twenty20 international at Edgbaston last September. But this was the first time he had passed 21 in seven innings in the longer form, strengthening the argument of those who have said he should be held back until the closing stages of an innings, especially under the new fielding restrictions which MS Dhoni had exploited so ruthlessly against England in India in the winter – and that batting at No6, as he had in the first two matches of the series, may therefore be a place too high for Buttler.
It was also an eloquent retort to those who continue to press for Matt Prior's recall to England's one-day team. Even when Buttler missed a sharp stumping chance early in New Zealand's reply, it did not prove expensive as Joe Root had Williamson trapped lbw later in the same over.
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image: © JJ Hall