The sighs of relief were almost audible, both from the middle and the New Zealand dressing room.
It wasn't Ross Taylor's best looking knock by any means, but it was one of his most significant, albeit in a losing cause against England in the second ODI at Napier's McLean Park last night.
Scores of 13, four, six and 22 in four innings against England since his return to international cricket caused a few concerned glances. With the test series fast approaching on March 6, New Zealand needed their best batsman firing after the captaincy saga.
He responded with his seventh ODI century, 100 off 117 balls, as New Zealand were dismissed for 269. That was never enough as England, led by rising batting star Joe Root's unbeaten 79 off 56 balls, cruised home by eight wickets with 14 balls to spare.
"We all knew that Ross would get runs at some point. He's a high class player and he's done it time and again for us," skipper Brendon McCullum said.
"It certainly wasn't a matter of hoping he was going to get runs it was a matter of when it was going to happen. Our team is a lot stronger when our No 4 batter is chipping in like that."
They'll need Taylor even stronger on Saturday for the series decider at the postage stamp Eden Park where both sides will fancy chasing any target.
England were too classy in all aspects in Napier, despite Taylor's century which drew a huge standing ovation, and McCullum's blazing 74 off 36 balls which lifted New Zealand towards a par total.
Senior England seamer James Anderson and new ball partner Steven Finn were outstanding early on. Anderson, England's leading wicket-taker across all formats, ended with a remarkable 5-34. New Zealand staggered to 37-2 off 15 overs as the quicks bowled an impeccable line and got it to bounce, swing and seam on a great batting wicket.
"It was a really good performance the way we bounced back and the pressure was on us 1-0 down in a three-match series," said England captain Alastair Cook, who set up the chase with a polished 78.
"The way Steven Finn and James Anderson set that tone; the first 12 overs is the best bowling I can remember."
McCullum looms as the main concern for England after making the No 6 spot in ODIs his own. With a better base, McCullum is the hosts' matchwinner and he'll hope to win the toss and bowl on Saturday so he can control the runchase.
"He played very well again. I felt we bowled a lot better to him today than we had done in Hamilton. He scored runs a lot quicker but he was hitting in areas he wasn't quite so comfortable in. Fair play to him, it was a great little knock and he got them up to a defendable total," Cook said.
"We've got to get him out early. He's in form and he's a very dangerous player. He hits the ball long and no ground is really big enough for him. With these new regulations he seems to come in at the perfect time at 36-37 overs and we'd like to get him earlier before he gets going."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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