Ravi Bopara, so nearly England's finisher in the Champions Trophy final on Sunday, found himself in a familiar position at The Oval on Tuesday night after taking his team to the threshold of a remarkable rescue only to be left too much to do and, for the second time in 48 hours, the hosts were defeated by five runs.
Requiring six off the last ball to tie the scores on 201 and force a super over, he could manage only a single shovelled into the legside but hope had been alive throughout a dramatic chase.
Michael Lumb and Alex Hales, whose match-winning partnership had earned a 10-wicket win in February when the two last met in this format, maintained that momentum, audaciously attacking a New Zealand total that had the boundary board flamethrowers flaring so regularly for sixes and fours that the operators could have been confused for pyromaniacs.
After New Zealand had made England's bowling figures, save for the impressive Boyd Rankin and Luke Wright, a sight to delight sadists, Lumb and Hales raced to 50 off 22 balls, wrecking a Mitchell McClenaghan over for 25 with four fours and Hales's towering six over deep backward square leg before Lumb fell playing on to Nathan McCullum. One short boundary square of the wicket encouraged cross-bat strokes and Wright, who had earlier taken two wickets, joined Hales and exploited the advantage well. When Hales was caught in the deep off Roneel Hira trying to sustain the run rate Wright took over orchestrating the chase, pummelling a full toss into the seats at deep midwicket, and reached his 50 with 70 required off 40 balls.
Having kept Wright company as he established such a promising staging post, the captain, Eoin Morgan, departed for seven, the victim of an outrageously good slip catch by Ross Taylor, and Wright fell eight balls later, caught at the wicket trying to accelerate, before Ben Stokes and Bopara gamely fell short. "It's not very enjoyable not to get over the line again but the guys showed great character and intent," said Morgan. "One blow and we would have won."
Of the seven changes from Sunday – Ashley Giles evidently subscribing to the old maxim that irregulars fight harder for their medals as well as heeding the necessity of resting players – Rankin provoked the most interest. The 6ft 7in bowler, who was called up to the Ashes warm-up squad on Monday, was given his England debut after 15 T20s for Ireland and little opportunity to dwell on it by Morgan after he won the toss and put New Zealand in.
It seemed the bolder option, particularly because the prolific Martin Guptill was ruled out by a hamstring strain and the visitors replaced him with the makeshift pinch-hitter James Franklin. Rankin opened the bowling and looked lively from his first ball, making it lift to force both left-handers on to the back foot and took his maiden England wicket with his fourth delivery, sawing off Franklin for a golden duck, caught off the bottom edge by Jos Buttler deftly adjusting his weight to dive to his right when his instinct would have drawn him the other way. He may be a manufactured wicketkeeper but his progress has been astonishing.
In came Brendon McCullum, ranked the best T20 batsman in world cricket, but it was Hamish Rutherford who wreaked most havoc on Chris Woakes' figures, pulling length balls over backward square-leg for a four and a six, then creaming his attempted yorker for a straight-driven four with crisp timing. Having conceded 19 off his first over, Woakes was taken off and was not risked again. Jade Dernbach relieved him and tempted Rutherford into a slashing cut that scorched Bopara's fingertips at backward point.
It was a difficult chance but nonetheless a drop England lamented as the opener and McCullum – with luck, nerve, good judgment and at times mesmerising bat speed – tucked into the seamers greedily, taking nine an over from the powerplay. Spin made no difference and Rutherford was not in the mood for constraint, reaching his half-century off 28 balls.
With England appearing resigned to the onslaught, it took the seventh bowler, Wright, to restore some order in the 12th over, enticing Rutherford to lob one of his dobbers straight to Hales at long-off. Four overs later he yorked McCullum to end a customary swashbuckling innings of 68. Flurries from Taylor and Tom Latham added insult to injury but the damage on a helpful pitch had already been done.
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