Victory is music to Vettori's ears
"It keeps us in the series," said Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain. "The style of it [was impressive]... backs against the wall: that has been a trait of New Zealand cricket teams for a long, long time and to look at today, [it was] led by some young guys. Obviously Kyle Mills had a great game, but Tim Southee's spell, and Grant [Elliott] has been just amazing in his first two games."
To say New Zealand have struggled since arriving on these shores is to understate the difficulties they have faced. Only sporadically did they threaten England's dominance in the Test series, while they were walloped in both the Twenty20 that preceded the one-dayers, as well as the first ODI at Chester-le-Street. These were not the performances of a one-day side placed fourth in the official ICC one-day table. Geoffrey Boycott's slamming of their top-order as being league cricketers during the Test series was heartless, perhaps, but accurate.
Not so today. In fact, an apparent league cricketer came to their rescue. Grant Elliott, a tall allrounder born in Johannesburg, was plying his trade with Weybridge in the Surrey Championship until his impressive debut at Edgbaston on Wednesday in which he took 3 for 23. Today, it was with the bat that he shone, easing a cool 56 to rescue New Zealand from a perilous 75 for 6, lifting them to a challenging 182 and sharing in a vital stand of 54 with Kyle Mills. This was the backs-to-the-wall cricket that has so often characterised New Zealand's play, but which has been elusive almost to the point of invisibility this summer.
"It shows what a quality player he [Elliott] is," Vettori said. "He's performed domestically for a couple of years now, basically in that role of batting six and bowling. And today we saw how good a batter he is and in the last game how good a bowler is. He's a good find for us. I think it's a foregone conclusion that he'll stay with us for the next two games."
For a young and generally inexperienced team, New Zealand have a nucleus of gifted players all itching for the chance to show what they can do. Tim Southee, the fresh-faced swing bowler - who could yet turn into a dangerous bowling allrounder - again impressed today, recovering from three expensive overs to pick up 4 for 38. "I think everyone knows he's going to be a really good bowler," Vettori said. "We've just got to keep the faith with him because he's a natural talent and just needs that experience and needs to know what to do in each of those situations."
Vettori spoke confidently, if predictably, of cricket's favourite buzzword: momentum. Indeed, the impetus is probably with New Zealand ahead of the final two one-dayers but, as Stuart Broad demonstrated, England too have their own nucleus of young players who have shown exceptional promise. Broad can do no wrong these days, choosing today to produce his most economical spell - 2 for 14 from 10 unerringly accurate overs. Kevin Pietersen's comments that Broad could develop into a clone of Glenn McGrath may not be too outlandish.
"I always look to get six or eight overs out of [him]," Paul Collingwood said, "but today he kept taking wickets. He was fantastic. His control at the moment is superb, he's pretty much hitting his straps every single ball and doing a little bit with it. He's just monotonous, with his action and everything. It's really good to watch."
Not even England's golden boy could see them home today, however, and Collingwood rued his side's complacency.
"Reducing them to 180, we were very happy with," he said. "The wicket was very good and came onto the bat; the odd one nibbled about a bit. But it certainly wasn't a wicket you couldn't bat on. I just think we're very disappointed we didn't take an opportunity here; an opportunity to be pretty ruthless and go 2-0 up. We kept losing wickets, and kept hitting it straight to fielders. It was a disappointing run-chase.
"The boys realise today was a blip - or we hope so - but we've played some great cricket in the one-day form of the game recently, and today was disappointing. We could have been really ruthless and nailed it home, but we didn't take the opportunity. It's something we've got to learn as a unit and learn for the future. These experiences are obviously disappointing at the time but [a good learning experience] for the future."
England don't have long to learn from today's costly errors with The Oval hosting Wednesday's fourth ODI. To borrow a lyric from AC/DC's song, New Zealand have been let loose from the noose, and the series is all the better for it.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo