England's collapse more costly than New Zealand's
New Zealand's four-wicket victory over England in the National Bank Series opener at Christchurch's Jade Stadium was achieved because their collapse of four for eight was nowhere near as injurious as the eight for 40 suffered by England.
New Zealand won with 21 balls to spare, 31 balls if you include those England failed to use at the end of their innings.
Both sides made fine starts, England getting through to 84/1 in the 12th over, and New Zealand scoring 99 for their opening stand in 19 overs, but suffered crippling middle-order collapses.
New Zealand, however, proved that playing two of the toughest opponents in the world one-day scene in Australia and South Africa was better preparation for this home series than England enjoyed against India.
It was important for New Zealand to win, to stop their run of losses at five, and regain the equilibrium that served them so well in the early part of their campaign in Australia.
England wanted to start well here, to build on their efforts in India and to put the pressure on New Zealand. That will now have to wait until Saturday in Wellington after the batting faltered and because New Zealand had more resolve in their middle and lower-order than England enjoyed.
New Zealand also revealed a capacity for putting pressure on in the field. Some brilliant catching, by Lou Vincent and Chris Cairns, which saw them diving full length to haul in chances offered by Andrew Flintoff and Craig White respectively, and by a leaping Daryl Tuffey to get Paul Collingwood, boosted the home side considerably after earlier catching lapses. Nick Knight was dropped twice behind the wicket, at second slip by Nathan Astle and wicket-keeper by Chris Nevin, off successive Cairns deliveries.
When batting, England made up for the first over loss of Marcus Trescothick, who was leg before wicket to new fast man Ian Butler, by having Nasser Hussain hit out as if determined to prove his critics wrong and that he could score quickly.
He and Knight scored 82 runs off 67 balls before they were parted when Andre Adams, who bowled impressively on the day, had Hussain out caught behind for 35 off 38 balls.
The run rate slowed considerably, although the 100 still came up off 111 balls. Knight scored his 50 off 45 balls.
But it was the introduction of left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori that sparked the change in New Zealand's fortunes, and in the side's fielding performance, assisted by a bizarre scene after a run out appeal against Graham Thorpe.
Thorpe was returning to the batsman's end to complete three to a ball played fine by Flintoff.
However, Craig McMillan made a superb sliding save just inside the boundary. He rifled a brilliant return which hit the stumps direct.
Thorpe got tangled up in his bat just short of the line and umpire Tony Hill called for the third umpire's view.
That showed Thorpe was clearly out, but they were also checking whether McMillan had crossed the line while fielding. He hadn't by a fraction. In the meantime, Thorpe had moved to the boundary awaiting the verdict and Collingwood was out in the middle.
Viewing the replay Collingwood seemed to think a four had been scored and that Thorpe wasn't out, so he started to walk off while Thorpe came back to the middle. It was then that umpire Hill stopped Thorpe and told him he was in fact out, for 41 scored off 52 balls.
Hill said afterwards that it was the English team who had decided it was a four and not the third umpire, but when Hill explained the situation to Thorpe he had accepted it well.
But the manner of what happened next had to be of concern to the England management. No-one stood firm and accepted responsibility to even bat out the complete number of overs. From 156/2, England lost their next eight wickets in the space of 40 runs and were bowled out with 10 balls to spare.
In reply, Chris Nevin made a firm statement about his desire to be part of New Zealand's one-day plans by scoring the fourth half century of his ODI career while helping Astle put on 99 for the first wicket, the best stand since the series winning stand by Astle and Stephen Fleming against Pakistan at Carisbrook last year.
Nevin admitted afterwards that he had been more nervous when 'keeping today than when making his ODI debut and after dropping a catch off Cairns had been determined to make amends with the bat.
Astle was always the junior partner and unfamiliar as the anchor role for him is, it was a vital hand, especially when he saw Darren Gough take four wickets in 11 balls while he watched at the other end.
However, he found Adams in good pinch-hitting mood and they added 54 runs off 46 balls to bring New Zealand home, Adams hitting two sixes in his 28 not out off 23, and Astle scoring his 50 off 92 balls but finishing unbeaten on 67 off 105.
Gough ended with four for 44 from nine overs for England, but in the final context of the game, it was the control and flight of Vettori in his prime with three for 17 off eight overs that cast the greater influence over the game.
New Zealand won, but have plenty to build on in the remaining matches of the series. England have some serious issues to cope with in their middle and lower-order if they are to come through and win this series.