England's cricketing calibre on display
It had to wait a day - but the England cricket team showed in Whangarei yesterday what a handful it is going to be this summer.
Held after Monday's scheduled encounter was abandoned because of rain, the English Twenty20 side posted an impressive 46-run victory at Cobham Oval in the first full match of the team's two-month tour.
The English victory was highlighted by dominating individual performances with both bat and ball. With the willow, it was wicketkeeper Jos Buttler (57 not out) who did the business in their first innings of 186-3, while skipper Stuart Broad, on the comeback trail after a recent heel injury, nabbed a triple wicket maiden as the New Zealand XI struggled to keep pace with their international opponents.
Broad's hat-trick, which saw him claim the wickets of Andrew Ellis (8), Ian Butler (0) and Matt Henry (0) in the first three balls of his final over, effectively ended the game, but the damage had been done long before then.
England simply scored too much at the crease, and the New Zealand batsmen, other than Black Cap Colin Munro (55), were unable to even look like getting on top of the English bowlers.
"We were a bit off today," Ellis, the New Zealand XI captain, admitted.
"Our execution wasn't quite there and that showed. When you're playing against international teams, you only have to be a little bit out, and they make you pay.
"We were in our execution at the death, and just a little bit behind it at most of the stages with the bat. A bit behind the eight-ball, that's for sure."
Things started promisingly for the Kiwis, with seamers Henry and Michael Bates limiting the English to just 48 off the first eight overs.
Henry's first three overs were particularly tight, an encouraging sign for a young Canterbury bowler who missed nine months of cricket last year with a stress fracture in his lower back.
But when Luke Wright (44) and Eoin Morgan (48 not out) got together at the wicket after opener Michael Lumb (25) was caught by Anton Devcich off Butler, the tourists cut loose.
Wright and Morgan added 61 off six overs before Wright was neatly stumped by Luke Ronchi off Nick Beard, bringing Buttler (55) to the crease.
Featuring six fours, and three towering sixes, Buttler's innings, which came off just 24 balls, was exciting to watch - with an inventive 'Dil-scoop' off Butler causing the most gasps. It's easy to see why the English will be using him as their first-choice keeper during the upcoming Twenty20 series against the Black Caps.
The New Zealand XI chase never really got out of second gear.
The openers, Anton Devcich (9) and Hamish Rutherford (5), fell early, and Tom Latham, who looked the most at ease at the crease, was run out for 22 before he was able to get stuck into his work.
Auckland's Munro proved why he has earned his international call-up over recent months, hitting a well-measured 55 off 32 balls. Munro said he returned home from the recent South African tour confident, and ready to play his natural game.
"I was really confident after the way I finished in South Africa," Munro said.
"To get a score over there - and to come back and play my natural game. That's what Bob [coach Bob Carter] and Ellis both told me - if there was a sniff, to try and put them behind the eight-ball. Luckily enough, a couple came out of the middle."
The Durban-born batsman received little assistance from the New Zealand XI middle and lower order; they lost seven wickets for 67 runs to finish all out for 140.
England and the New Zealand XI play again today at Cobham Oval, starting at 2pm. The first game of the Twenty20 international series between England and the Black Caps takes place at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The Dominion Post