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June 28, 2008
Scott Styris and Daniel Vettori, New Zealand's two most experienced ODI players, guided their team to a 51-run victory that ensured their often disappointing and sometimes heated tour ended on a high. Styris set up the success with an unbeaten 87 before Vettori wrecked the England middle order, giving Kevin Pietersen a torrid first match as captain and confirming a 3-1 triumph for the visitors.
It was an outstanding result for New Zealand in a series where they managed to stay on top despite being dealt two cruel blows. At Edgbaston they were denied what seemed a likely win when rain ended their chase one over short of the 20 required to constitute a game, and at the Oval they won on the last ball in a match where ill feeling spilled over due to a controversial mid-pitch collision and subsequent run-out.
But New Zealand like being the underdogs. They are the masters of talking themselves down, which at times seems unjustified but also serves to heighten the joy whenever they triumph in a series. They are also more consistent in the one-day arena than in the Test format and it was two of their premier limited-overs players who set the platform for the final win with a 77-run partnership.
The efforts of Styris and Jacob Oram, who had enough experience to slow the tempo having lost top-order wickets, before launching a late attack, must have made Pietersen question his decision to send New Zealand in on a good batting pitch. Not that scoring should have been that difficult for England either, they just failed to copy Styris and capitalise on their starts.
Three of their top four fell after promising much. Alastair Cook and Ian Bell made an encouraging 53-run opening stand that might have had Vettori a shade nervous. Bell drove Kyle Mills through the on-side for a pair of boundaries in the first over but it was just another tease for frustrated England supporters and he was lbw for 27 when he walked across his stumps to Mark Gillespie.
Cook displayed similar promise in reaching 24 before edging behind off the second ball from Tim Southee, who had a cracking series and finished with 13 wickets at 18.23 after adding a watchful Pietersen, who cut in the air to point for 6. When Vettori deceived a confident Ravi Bopara (30) with an arm ball and added Luke Wright and Tim Ambrose cheaply, the result was certain.
Only Owais Shah managed a hint of what Styris had achieved, finishing with 69 to become the only man besides Styris to pass fifty twice in the series. The big difference was that Styris, who played a perfectly-paced innings, had impressive support from Daniel Flynn, Grant Elliott, and Oram. England's bowlers had chipped away at the top order, which meant Styris had to settle and ensure they batted out their overs. After they built a solid platform of 170 for 4 from 40 overs, New Zealand added 96 in the final ten as Pietersen failed to work out how to plug the leaks.
At the 40-over mark New Zealand had managed only eight fours and a six; by the end they had more than doubled the boundary count. Oram cut loose with a pair of sixes that cleared long on, giving him a 37-ball fifty and leaving Shah with a double-figure economy rate, and even though he departed to a catch at long off, the crowd was given further fireworks when Styris suddenly lifted his tempo.
When Styris reached his half-century from 75 deliveries - with a miscued six - he had managed only two fours. His next 34 came from 16 balls as he powerfully launched Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson into the crowd to leave England ruing the life they gave him on 13. Styris flashed hard at a Graeme Swann delivery outside off stump and the ball flew over the head of the backward point, Bopara, who hurled himself in the air only to see the ball bounce off his outstretched hand.
It was a tough chance by any measure, but it was just one of a handful of fielding lapses from Pietersen's men. Flynn was put down at cover by Bell on 21 and when Jamie How had 4 his top-edged pull was grassed by Ambrose, who should have snared the highly gettable opportunity running back with the flight. Styris made England pay, while the other let-offs gradually added up.
Even so, the surface was true enough that with a more disciplined batting display England could still have chased successfully and gone out with a 2-2 draw. But ultimately it was New Zealand who donned the black caps to deal a fatal blow to England's series.
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