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There was only one word that Paul Collingwood could use to describe England's performance, as they routed New Zealand by nine wickets in one-off Twenty20 at Old Trafford. Happily that word was 'professional'
June 13, 2008
The rewards for today's performance were rags compared to the riches on offer in Antigua. England's win bonus was just £500 per player - 1000 times less than each of the starting XI will earn if they can see off the Stanford All-Stars on November 1. And yet, there wasn't a single player whose efforts fell short of the standards that will be demanded for that high-stakes fixture. At this rate, Stanford will have to charter an Airbus to ferry England's bloated squad over for the game.
"It was an excellent performance, simple as that," said Collingwood. "We were very professional and very clinical, and there are no negatives to take from the game. Everyone knew their roles, and right from ball one, the guys hit their lengths and did a bit with the ball. You've got to give a lot of credit to Jimmy [Anderson] and [Stuart] Broad who set the tone for the whole match, before Belly and KP finished it off."
By bowling New Zealand out for a paltry 123, England broke the game before it had taken shape, and the Old Trafford crowd seemed slightly underwhelmed as the run-chase was played out in front of a cheery round of Mexican Waves. Brendon McCullum, whose legend in this format precedes him, managed somehow to negotiate the six Powerplay overs without scoring a run, and with Jacob Oram absent because of a hamstring strain, there was no-one lower down the order for New Zealand to make amends for that squandered momentum.
"I think when you're presented with situations like that you do expect one or two of the guys to pick up the slack," said New Zealand's captain, Daniel Vettori, who was the public face of a demoralised dressing room. "No-one did that today, and that was the real problem. We have to lift our performance quite markedly because today just wasn't good enough."
For New Zealand, this was their seventh consecutive defeat in 20-over cricket, dating back to their loss to Pakistan in the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20 in September. For them to perform so poorly in the format is a surprise on two counts, firstly because limited-overs cricket has long been their favoured version of the game, but now, with the advent of the IPL, the players have been keen to stress the shop-window phenomenon - if they perform well when the world is watching, they too could be snapped up by an Indian franchise for a life-changing sum of money.
Such considerations couldn't have been further from New Zealand's thoughts today, however - perhaps Stanford's crude economics had overwhelmed them before they began. "As I asked the team after the game, you just have to lift and find some way within yourself," said Vettori. "It's not a matter of me or Bracers [the coach, John Bracewell] saying a number of things. Some guys have got to step up and perform, and if they don't do it, we'll get results like we did today."
If there had been some suspicion before the match that England's players might struggle to justify the whopping price-tag that's just been put on them, Vettori did not claim to be one of the doubters. "They are a reasonably settled side, and the guys are pretty confident of getting over there [for the match]," he said. "The game is becoming a lot more calculated because people want to prove themselves, but guys can still go out there and play with that no-fear attitude."
No-one better exemplified the fearlessness of Twenty20 cricket than Ian Bell, who was a timorous bundle of nerves during the Test series (in which he made 45 runs in four innings). Today he improved on that tally by a third during his 60 not out from 46 balls. "It's been quite a frustrating month for me really," he said, "but it was nice just to free up a little bit, and go out and play some shots, have some fun and enjoy it."
Right now, enjoyment is the bottom line for England's cricketers. It was Vettori who sounded the warning about money motivation that is at the back of everyone's minds, but as Collingwood put it, his squad is "in a happy place right now".
"Of course there's talk in the dressing room, because you can't get away from the fact that [the Stanford match] is a massive game for us, but what we've done today is put in a professional performance," he said. "I'm not saying that it's because of that carrot that we've played well tonight, but there have been no distractions and, if anything, it's been a positive for us because it's got the best out of the boys."
Somewhere in his Antiguan hideaway, perhaps with half an eye on the "boring" form of the game in which his West Indians are giving the world champions a run for their money, Stanford will be quietly satisfied with the initial reaction to his munificence. It remains to be seen if the big bucks are still bringing out big performances in five months' time.
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