Oval thrills leave no signs of T20 fatigue
Much had been made in the brief build up to the two T20 internationals between England and New Zealand of their superfluity. The first, won by New Zealand after nearly 400 runs had been scored at The Oval, came two days after the final of the Champions Trophy and, for some sections of the media, the series has already been swallowed up or otherwise eclipsed by a spike in the Ashes mercury.
England's Test series against Australia begins in two weeks' time but if there is any sense of fatigue at the continuing engagements with New Zealand, it was not discernible on Tuesday night. Almost five months after England's tour of New Zealand began with three high-scoring T20s, a full house at The Oval showed their raucous appreciation for more of the same on the return leg.
Even though England rested a number of players, including Stuart Broad, the regular T20 captain, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn, and New Zealand are approaching the end of an intense tour that has already taken in two Tests, three ODIs and the Champions Trophy, both Eoin Morgan and Brendon McCullum, captains on the night, defended the scheduling.
"It's very important," Morgan said of the game. "The majority of the Twenty20 team obviously isn't involved in the Test match or one-day international team so for a lot of guys this is the pinnacle of their summer and I think it's very important."
England's Twenty20 specialists - the likes of Alex Hales, Michael Lumb and Luke Wright - seemed particularly keen to grasp their opportunity to participate at last in what the ECB has been marketing as the 'Summer of Cricket'. If a carnival atmosphere at a packed ground is what the governing body is after, this was another salient reminder of the importance of Twenty20 to the overall health of the game.
"It was brilliant," McCullum said. "Obviously I didn't expect to have such a big crowd today, but I thought it was brilliant. There was probably a little bit of criticism about these two T20 being tacked on at the end but I think what we saw today was justification for them and hopefully we get another big crowd on Thursday."
Surrey will harbour similar hopes. The club paid a staging fee for both games but, even with discounted £1 entry for under-16s, the economics seem likely to have worked in their favour, once the spending at various food and drinks outlets is taken into account. On Thursday, the expected return to England colours of Kevin Pietersen, also a Surrey player, plus the greater proximity to the weekend could make for an even livelier affair.
And all this excitement for an England defeat. Morgan admitted a modicum of disappointment at the result but felt the difference was as little as "one blow and we would have won the game". He had praise for England debutant Boyd Rankin, who took 1 for 24 on a night when bowlers were fodder, and the way his less-experienced side fought to stay in the game after Hamish Rutherford and McCullum had given New Zealand a ferocious start.
It was perhaps Morgan's dismissal, caught at slip in the 14th over with England matching the required rate, that was the game's pivotal moment. McCullum's decision to put Ross Taylor in a catching position, rather than try and protect the boundaries, was indicative of his mindset as a captain and provided the crowd with another moment to savour.
"It took a pretty special catch for it to come off," McCullum said. "We had to take wickets, to me it wasn't necessarily a risk. If we didn't have the slip in place we would have seen the game peter out, I think, so we had to keep trying to make some plays and sometimes they come off and it looks great and sometimes they don't. Thankfully today it did."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here