This New Zealand vs England encounter was not decided by the barest of margins.
Four years on from pipping the Kiwis on boundary countback to win the 2019 World Cup, England suffered a nine-wicket trouncing by the same team in the opening match of the 2023 tournament.
New Zealand restricted their opponents – who were shorn of Ben Stokes due to a hip niggle – to 282-9 before cruising past that score with 82 balls remaining as Devon Conway (152no) and Rachin Ravindra (122no) stuck unbeaten centuries in a stand of 273.
We look at the talking points from England’s annihilation in Ahmedabad…
England struggle with partnerships
Joe Root (77) and Jos Buttler (43) shared the highest partnership for England, putting on 70 from 72 deliveries, with the innings notable for players getting in and then getting out.
England’s failure to post a substantial score came from a lack of precision as opposed to being overly attacking with the man that led them to 2019 World Cup glory, Eoin Morgan, saying Buttler’s side were not aggressive enough.
“They will be kicking themselves a little bit. They didn’t throw many punches. I don’t think they went hard enough,” Morgan said at the halfway stage of the game.
Just as Harry Brook looked to be attacking, smashing New Zealand’s left-arm spinner Ravindra for two boundaries and then a six, he miscued a shot to deep square leg to leave England four down.
Every England batter made double figures – the first time that has ever happened across men’s and women’s ODI cricket – but no one really pushed on, Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan among those to come and go.
In contrast, New Zealand had two players who made triple figures, with Ravindra and Conway putting England to the sword after the early exit of Conway’s opening partner Will Young for a golden duck.
Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain said: “The crisp nature of bat on ball during the Ravindra-Conway partnership, the sound, showed what a good pitch this is. It was a masterclass in white-ball batting without them losing their shape.”
Root’s return to form
A few more question marks may have emerged for England after their opening-game drubbing but one that has now been been silenced is concern over Joe Root, who returned to form with his 37th ODI fifty.
England’s No 3 had bagged three single-figure dismissals against New Zealand last month in the teams’ ODI series, in addition to a scratchy 29 from 40 balls at The Kia Oval in which he was dropped twice.
But he looked back in nick in Ahmedabad, scoring briskly, hitting four fours and a six, and rolling out his trusty reverse sweep/scoop. Trusty, that is, until he was bowled playing a shot of that ilk against spinner Mitchell Santner.
We really should not have been worried about Root, who averages well in excess of 40 in ODIs in India and was a star of the last World Cup in the country, the T20 version in 2016, when he helped England to the final.
“My experience in the game has told me to never back against class, and he is England’s classiest batter,” said Sky Sports’ Michael Atherton when asked about Root before the tournament.
That class was evident on Thursday but Root now needs his fellow batters to step up and not gift their wickets after making promising starts.
England wayward with the ball
The tone for New Zealand’s run chase was set in the first over, perhaps even the first ball. An overpitched delivery from Chris Woakes was driven through the off-side for four by Conway, with the same player cracking another boundary four balls later.
Woakes’ second over featured two more boundaries. Ravindra, this time, tucking into balls that were too full or too short. It was the same deal in the seamer’s third over. He strayed in line and length and New Zealand pounced.
Mark Wood came on early but he, too, was collared. His opening over went for 17 as Conway and Ravindra enjoyed his extra pace and wayward line. New Zealand were 81-1 after the powerplay and never looked back.
“With the ball we need to be consistent with a good length early on. We leaked, giving them scoring opportunities both sides of the wicket,” said Root afterwards.
Sky Sports pundit Morgan added: “England didn’t bowl well. They were so far off the mark. They looked undercooked with the ball, bowling both sides of the wicket, which isn’t ideal. It was a disappointing day. You have to be able to compete to say you were outplayed and for a lot of the game, they didn’t compete.”
No time to panic
Those of you old enough to remember the sitcom Dad’s Army will be familiar with Lance Corporal Jones yelling “Don’t panic!” That cry was quite often followed by a period of panic but you don’t sense England will be doing likewise despite their heavy defeat.
This is a side that know how to deal with setbacks. In the 2019 World Cup, losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia left them on the brink of elimination only for a four-match winning streak, in which they dispatched India, New Zealand, Australia and New Zealand again, to earn them the title.
At last year’s T20 World Cup, a rain-affected reverse versus Ireland and then a washout against Australia put their knockout-stage hopes in peril before another four-match winning streak, which featured victories over New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, secured that silverware.
Even last month they were creamed by New Zealand in the first ODI and 55-5 in the second before rallying to win that series 3-1. There are things to work on clearly – you can’t really gloss over a nine-wicket hiding – but England have no need to overreact.
Hussain said: “England have periods like this and they do bounce back. They lost to New Zealand last month and people were saying ‘Root is gone, change the side, the bowling attack is rubbish’. But they came back.
“I don’t know how to win World Cups but my guess is that picking yourself up and dusting yourself down [is important]. In Jos, I think they have that type of leader.”
Root added: “We don’t need to spend a long time talking, we know where we have gone wrong. When have you seen a World Cup campaign where there isn’t a stumbling block? We must stay calm.”
There you go, then. No time to panic. But lose against Bangladesh…
England miss Stokes – so when will he be back?
“What Stokes does is take responsibility. He knows when to sit in and when to go hard. It is not all about going hard, it’s about assessing the situations and not leaving it to another batter.”
Those the words of Sky Sports expert Nasser Hussain after England’s batting stuttered. This time they did not have big-match Ben to bail them out, just as he had done in the last two World Cup finals.
Stokes’ replacement, Brook, provided fireworks, hauling Ravindra over midwicket for two fours and then cracking him over the same region for six as he thumped 14 runs in three balls. Before departing to the fourth. Brook’s innings was fleeting, not decisive.
Stokes will return to the XI when able – but when will that be?
Quizzed whether his team-mate would return for Tuesday’s game against Bangladesh, captain Buttler answered not with a firm “yes” but instead with a “we will wait and see” and “fingers crossed he is fit as soon as possible.”
There is no need for England to rush Stokes. This is a long tournament and there are, in all fairness to Bangladesh, tougher tests to come, at least on paper. But Buttler will want him back as soon as possible.
New Zealand put other sides on notice
If you were one of those writing off New Zealand, you should have known better. When it comes to World Cups, the Black Caps come alive. They have reached the final of the last two 50-over versions, as well the T20 edition in 2020, and on this evidence could contend this time around, too.
Their demolition job on England came without Kane Williamson at No 3 and Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson in the seam attack but Ravindra and Henry ensured they were not missed.
From the spot Williamson has made his own, Rachin Ravindra starred in the land of Sachin Tendulkar scoring an 82-ball century on his World Cup debut as he and Conway eased New Zealand to their target with more than 13 overs to spare. That came after pace bowler Henry had bagged 3-48. If this was an understrength New Zealand, then what damage could they do at full strength?
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Williamson will return somewhere in the middle order, an area where the Black Caps are already so strong with the late-blooming Daryl Mitchell and six-hitting Glenn Phillips.
Spin-wise, slow left-armer Santner is one of the canniest operators around, snaring 2-37 from his 10 overs against England, and leggie Ish Sodhi is an option to come into the side as well.
Add in seamers Boult, Southee, Ferguson and Henry with the ball, plus Conway up top with the bat – a man who now has three centuries in his last six ODIs – and New Zealand look a fearsome proposition.
Is this the year the frequent finalists finally win the big one?
Watch every match from the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup live on Sky Sports. England are back in action against Bangladesh on Tuesday (6am first ball), with New Zealand’s next game versus Netherlands on Monday (9.30am start). Stream the tournament on NOW for £21 a month for six months.