Rutherford takes NZ A to tri-series success
New Zealand 225 for 3 (Rutherford 95, Devcich 49, Latham 48*) beat England Lions 255 for 8 (Bairstow 77, Smith 71, Henry 3-56) by 7 wickets D/L method
Abundant batting line-up or not, England Lions have not advanced their individual World Cup claims by the manner in which they have twice been dismantled by an experienced New Zealand A in the Royal London tri-series. In Bristol last Friday and Worcester today, four wickets have been lost without 50 on the board, inroads which brought New Zealand wins on both occasions and ensured a satisfying victory in the tournament.
If the Lions batsmen remain worthy of debate, this particular bowling attack is unlikely to detain the selectors when World Cup squads are finalised. Hamish Rutherford found them much to his taste, the only surprise being that he did not complete an untroubled century, falling five runs short when he was bowled on the charge, off-side drive in mind, by the left-arm spinner Stephen Parry, the best England bowler on show.
England Lions did well to escape to 255 for 8, but after a heavy shower, which trimmed the chase to 220 in 36 overs, New Zealand achieved their target with alacrity. Tom Latham, who struck a run-a-ball 48, finished matters by striking Tom Smith over the square leg rope with 21 balls to spare. With a home World Cup to inspire them, New Zealand can expect to field a competitive squad.
New Zealand victories are rarely marked by extravagant praise, but a downbeat presentation ceremony was low-key even for them. The Lions' defeat was suitably marked by the downcast tones of Ernie on the New Road public address. Ernie brings his own style to the most exciting of days, permanently sounding as if he is reading out details of his own funeral, an era which demands extravagant excitement having somehow passed him by.
New Zealand fielded a side boasting nine players with international experience - only Scott Kuggeleijn and Daryl Mitchell remain uncapped - and once again they played with efficiency worthy of their status, taking clinical advantage of a good toss as they made maximum use of helpful bowling conditions in the first hour.
This New Road pitch has been used three times in a week and produced more than 1,500 runs in the process. It impressed the Lions so much during their victory against Sri Lanka A that they encouraged the groundstaff to use it again. There was no reason to change that assessment as wickets fell. James Vince's unproductive series ended when he mistimed a pull to midwicket and then Matt Henry intervened in a manner that suggested it will not be long before he adds to his solitary ODI cap, won against India in Wellington earlier this year and where he bowled with eye-catching pace.
Henry trimmed Ravi Bopara's stumps, had James Taylor lbw and caused Jason Roy to edge to slip as he advanced down the pitch; Roy's England debut, if and when it comes, will surely be in T20. An impressive new-ball spell would have brought a fourth wicket, too, if Alex Hales, on 8, had been held at second slip by Dean Brownlie.
Just as he did in Bristol, it was Jonny Bairstow who reassembled England's fractured innings. Poor Ashes tour or not, he was unfairly rubbished in some quarters, and when he completed a third successive half-century by assertively sweeping Ish Sodhi's quicker ball, he had again played in a measured fashion that for a time seemed to have deserted him. His departure on 71 was unfortunate, a bottom-edged pull at a ball from Doug Bracwell that kept a little low and a catch down the leg side.
Smith must have thought his Lions days were behind him when he was dispensed with after a 2006-07 tour of Bangladesh, but nearly eight years later he has proved himself a mature cricketer. He provided restrained support for Bairstow before indulging in some late hitting with Toby Roland-Jones to give England's total a veneer of respectability. Henry's last over went for 18, the final boundary jumping up as it struck the rope and jolting awake a dozing spectator by striking him meaningfully on his sun hat.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo