England won the first Twenty20 international of this three-match series with a clinical and collective performance after New Zealand won the toss and elected to field.
It was a curious decision considering the conditions. A big total was going to be posted on a perfect batting pitch with the shortest of straight boundaries and chasing big totals is always difficult as every wicket stalls the momentum. However, maybe the shortness of the boundary affected the Kiwis’ thinking as it really was ridiculous.
T20 was designed to attract younger and greater crowds and it was, and still is, believed that the best way to achieve that is to give them cricket with the ball flying repeatedly into the stands for six. It is exciting and the crowds around the world respond like carnival-goers to every big hit, but sport is meant to be a contest.
Some sixes hit down the ground by England barely warranted a mention indeed, on a normal ground, they would have had long-on sprinting in 25 yards and diving for a catch.
At times it was dispiriting to see the bowlers so brutally written out of the contest unless, that is, your idea of fun is the sporting equivalent of seal clubbing.
All the England batsmen enjoyed themselves.
New Zealand were culpable as well with poor fielding but maybe they were a bit frazzled by the nature of the match.
Bowl, whack, bowl, whack resembles baseball more than cricket. The statistics of the England innings reveal exactly how biased conditions were towards the batsmen.
Out of a total of 214 there were 16 fours and 15 sixes. That is an extraordinary 90 in sixes.
Luke Wright at first drop just tried to launch every delivery from the very start of his innings. Even in the frenzy that T20 can be, batsmen still usually consider a few deliveries to get themselves in but Wright swung like a lumberjack with a deadline from his first ball.
He scored 42 off 20 deliveries with 36 coming off just seven of them. Goodness knows what he was he doing off the other 13. . .
It mattered little. He left and was replaced by Eoin Morgan who continued in similar vein. And, when he was dismissed, in went Jos Buttler who also swung hard. This was cricket with a bludgeon. There was no artistry and precious little attempt at it. Why should there be when the boundary is only a punched sand wedge away?
The only surprise on the England scorecard was that the total was a collective effort. Usually a run-rate above ten an over needs a dominant player, a century or darned close to one.
Each and every England batsman that had a chance, took it and contributed.
The thought was, though, that, if New Zealand were to chase successfully, then one man would need a big score. Brendon McCullum was the dangerman, a proven century maker in T20 and one of the most explosive hitters in world cricket. He came in at number three and immediately hit a boundary. The score was moving at ten an over, albeit the first powerplay was still on, and Stephen Finn and Stuart Broad were looking vulnerable.
Then the difference between the sides occurred. McCullum sliced a steepling shot deep to the offside. Morgan, sprinting back from cover point, head tossed back watching the ball above and moving away from him, chased 30 yards and completed the most difficult of outfield catches. It was the best bit of proper cricket of the evening. Where New Zealand had dropped three, one of them so easy it would have embarrassed a schoolboy, Morgan and England seized the toughest of opportunities.
Ross Taylor emerged to a standing ovation after ending his self-enforced exile but, with the run rate reaching 12 an over and more, he struggled to deliver the valedictory innings the 23,000-strong crowd wanted. He swiped to deep midwicket, Jonny Bairstow completed a well-judged catch and that truly ended the contest. Martin Guptill continued to enhance his reputation, hitting judiciously but, when two or more are needed off every ball for any length of time, there should only be one winner.