Cricket: England have discovered licence to thrill

David Willey of England celebrates with teammates after dismissing Luke Ronchi of New Zealand. Picture: Getty
David Willey of England celebrates with teammates after dismissing Luke Ronchi of New Zealand. Picture: Getty
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What a thrilling denouement to this Royal London one day series.

Not even the rain in Durham could scupper the excitement as England, courtesy of a Duckworth-Lewis calculation were set 192 in 26 overs. It was a chase that in every other match would have been a walk in the park but this pitch in Durham offered more to the bowler as England discovered when keeping New Zealand to 283. It was slower in pace and the ball did swing in the air and move off the seam.

England’s start was shocking as well as Alex Hales was caught quite brilliantly by Kane Williamson at square leg. One of the power hitters was gone but it swiftly became worse, a lot worse as Joe Root was stumped and Eoin Morgan caught in the deep off his first ball.

The scoreboard read 20-3 and the game was all but gone.

A decade or so ago it would have been but these kids are made of sterner stuff. They see fun in an almost impossible situation and set about it with gusto. It does mean wickets fall, as Ben Stokes and Jason Roy succumbed but it also means only one partnership of substance is needed to make the win possible.

It started to come with Jonny Bairstow and Sam Billings. They scampered, slashed, swept and hit. Some shots were considerably more successful than others but they did start to exert some pressure back on the New Zealand bowlers.

Their 50 partnership came in 41 deliveries and at the start of the 17th over the target was 71. This was game on, something magic happening by two young thrusters.

However, New Zealand did not reach a World Cup final by being sluggish under pressure and Ross Taylor dived acrobatically to his left at short midwicket to take a superb catch. Billings was gone and momentum shifted back to the visitors in the blink of an eye. Now 67 runs were needed in 50 balls with only four wickets remaining. Another wicket should win it or a blazing cameo with the bat. It is impossible to pick a winner in these matches as the players are completely fearless and believe in the impossible. This is not just fantasy thinking either as the incredible run scoring in the previous four matches has proved.

From ball one of game one the cricket has been scintillating, one of the world’s best sides against one of the freshest and it has proved an even battle.

England have scored in excess of 300 in four consecutive matches for the first time. At Trent Bridge in the fourth match they chased down 349 with six overs to spare. It was the stuff of Chris Gayle and West Indies, Australia at their best or dare one say it, New Zealand. It was most certainly unexpected from England but this is their new way, dynamic, thrilling and aggressive.

Earlier though the bowlers had enjoyed some succour for the first time and as a group they were impressive.

Ben Stokes and Adddil Rashid were particularly good, going for about five runs an over but taking crucial wickets but there was excellent support from David Willey. How England benefit from having a left arm bowler in the side. Even Steven Finn, who was the most expensive, showed signs that he is returning to some form. He was only so profligate because the final over of the innings went for 22.

It was a good performance by the bowling group and if the fielding had been sharper would have made the total considerably smaller. Catching, or more correctly failing to catch is a concern for England. But how can they be faulted? The World Cup was only three months ago and England were playing cricket so bereft of fun, attitude and spark that it was truly painful to watch. Now they are 
exuberant, carefree and a match for any.

A series win would be perfect but the fact is they have reconnected England cricket with the public. Win or lose there is a buzz about the country and the Australians are now in town.

These young thrusters, the slashers and the swashbucklers have made cricket fun again, both to play and to watch.