Bairstow masks weak Lions display
New Zealand A 282 (Brownlie 115, Willey 5-62) beat England Lions 260 (Bairstow 123, Bracewell 3-43) by 22 runs
England Lions' 22-run defeat flattered them. At no point during the chase were they in a position to avoid risk or push the ball about to maintain an effective rate. Were it not for a world-class knock from Jonny Bairstow, the margin of defeat would have been sizeable enough to worry about England's ODI reserves.
As it is, Bairstow's 123 off 116 balls, which featured 14 boundaries and the addition of 212 runs from entrance to exit, is an unmistakable plus. While the New Zealand A attack were not challenging by ODI standards, they were a competent and calm unit until challenged by a brutal assault from a player who last played international 50-over cricket in September 2012.
At 48 for 4, he and Jason Roy played smartly to put on 95 in 16.3 overs; pushing fielders around and occasionally beating them. Ten overs more between these two, with their ability to clear the rope, and who knows what might have happened.
New Zealand A owe the win to a centurion of their own, Dean Brownlie. Without his contribution of 115 from 107 balls, they would have fallen well short of par. He held the innings together with a fairly simple approach that saw him wait for loose deliveries and ensure he used the quick outfield to put them away effectively. Even he must have been surprised by the extent of the looseness offered up.
The Lions can also look back ruefully on a handful of opportunities to remove Brownlie that did not go their way. On 39, he was left stranded after playing a late cut and taking a few steps down the pitch, only for Jason Roy at backward point to pull off a brilliant diving stop. Roy then set himself and fired at the stumps in an instant, but missed by a matter of inches, with Brownlie scampering back to his crease.
Two overs later, Craig Overton was sure he had trapped him in front for 45 but the umpire disagreed. The final reprieve, when Brownlie had already passed fifty, was the trickiest of the lot, as Tom Smith at midwicket dived and got one hand on a thumping pull shot that would have been a stunning catch.
As it was, they had to wait until the end of the 42nd over for his wicket, by which time he had taken advantage of some wayward bowling to reach three figures. For the second time this week, England struggled to offer much control with the ball.
Steven Finn came in for Boyd Rankin, having not made the Test XI at Old Trafford, and bowled briskly but was also guilty of not nailing his lengths. Only his Middlesex teammate Ravi Patel was able to regulate his overs, going wicketless but drastically improving on his economy rate at Taunton. Despite having gone for more than seven-an-over on Wednesday, he was not afraid to give the ball some air and imparted a good amount of drift that New Zealand, albeit worse players of spin than Sri Lanka, were unable to counter into runs.
One other bright spot with the ball was David Willey, who returned 5 for 62. Not that you could tell from his demeanour at the end of the match; downcast and shoeless after what was a frustrating day at the office, despite his personal success. When he joined Bairstow at the crease, the ask was for just over eight runs in each of the remaining 10 overs. He certainly has the capacity to have seen his side home, especially in the mood Bairstow was in. But, as frank as ever, he reflected that his game, after a period of recovery from a back injury sustained away with the England Performance Programme in the winter, still needs work to get it back to what it was last year.
He was also honest about his display with the ball. In the Northamptonshire dressing room he is revered for his direct approach. There will be times it will get him into trouble, but his knack of being direct with himself will only be of benefit to him as a player.
"I didn't really make them work for their boundaries which made it a bit easier for them," he admitted. "It's an area I need to work on. A couple of grabs at the end from skiers just happened to be off my bowling this week. I've got some work to do still, but five wickets in a one day game, I'll take it."
In the end, it was not glamour that won it for New Zealand but an ingrained efficiency that was all too apparent in the field, where they tightened in the ring during the second Powerplay and held onto some tricky catches. The best of the lot saw Roy snared by Tom Latham - a diving grab at midwicket - before similar at cover did for Bairstow.