England v NZ, Champions Trophy, Group A, Cardiff June 16, 2013

NZ come up short when it counts

On Groundhog Day for England and New Zealand, gloom descended on the Kiwis despite their previous form

It was, as the Welsh might say, a diflas evening in Cardiff, dank and miserable, and much of its misery was reserved for New Zealand. If the match had been abandoned, New Zealand would have qualified for the semi-finals, but the rain relented in the nick of time for England and, as the floodlights lit up a blanket of grey cloud, gloom slowly descended upon the side in black.

New Zealand must now hope for a narrow win for Australia against Sri Lanka at The Oval to sneak into the last four on net run rate. Sri Lanka merely need to win; Australia would need to win comprehensively. But New Zealand's ability to get within 10 runs of England's 169, despite being 50 for 4 midway through their 24 overs, means they cannot yet be discounted.

"We've obviously got to watch tomorrow's game and see what unfolds," their captain, Brendon McCullum, said. "Whatever unfolds from here is going to require some luck and, if we get the opportunity, great, but if we don't we know we passed an opportunity up." He then steeled himself to utter the hardest words for a New Zealand captain to say: he wished Australia all the best.

This was Groundhog Day: the 15th time New Zealand and England had crossed swords in 2013. The contest has been keen throughout in all formats. These two sides must have felt they knew everything about each other there was to know: their respective idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses and fashion sense. New Zealand even won the three-match ODI series which preceded this tournament but in the match that really mattered they did not quite have enough to give.

At least there would no mutterings about ball tampering on a dank and cheerless evening like this. England could not have got the ball to reverse if they had run over it with a tractor, ripped chunks out of it with a hacksaw and smeared it in Pont Gar cheese. And why bother when they could respond to an invitingly mucky night with some conventional English seam and swing?

"I thought they bowled brilliantly at the start, swung the ball and with good pace," McCullum said. "But for us to get so close could be valuable if it comes down to run rate."

Their best chance of a get-out for New Zealand came in the 20th over of their innings. Five balls before the match became legitimate, and Duckworth Lewis would come into effect in the event of rain, Corey Anderson, who was only summoned as an emergency replacement on Saturday, lay on the ground clutching his leg after slipping in a running mix-up with Kane Williamson.

New Zealand were in danger of being eliminated and there was one-upmanship going on about whose TV was the biggest.

As his calf was strapped, there was drizzle in the air and rumours of heavier rain in the Bristol Channel. Fifty spectators dressed as yellow bananas in the Main Stand, and by then shining through the gloom like a searchlight, began to peel themselves back up again in protection against the drizzle. A downpour then would have meant one point each and taken New Zealand through. Jeers came from the crowd as minutes ticked by. But the downpour never quite came.

Even then New Zealand weren't quite spent. Tim Bresnan conceded 19 from his next over and for New Zealand suddenly the requirement was 36 from three overs. The tension was nearly enough to send Mrs Bresnan into labour. As it is, England stay in the tournament for at least another three days and there will be cricket obsessives in Yorkshire who will believe that it is her duty to cling on for all she is worth.

Then Williamson, whose 67 from 54 balls had kept New Zealand in the match, was caught at cover by James Anderson, but the bowler, Stuart Broad, was perilously close to a no-ball. After several replays, the third umpire, Steve Davis, gave Broad the wicket, but a man with a 52-inch plasma telly texted ESPNcricinfo to say that Broad had overstepped. Another man then texted to say his TV was 55 inches and he was not quite so sure. New Zealand were in danger of being eliminated and there was one-upmanship going on about whose TV was the biggest.

"It was a close decision but I don't have a problem with it," McCullum said. Many other captains would have taken the chance to hide behind an easy excuse. Not for the first time in his captaincy of New Zealand, McCullum revealed himself to be impressively even-handed, endlessly competitive yet when the contest is over willing more often than not to take the rough with the smooth.

There again you have to be philosophical when your older brother has seven catching opportunities in 24 overs, accepts four and drops three of them. "The ball kept following him around," Brendon said, fraternally. "He's a brilliant fielder. I think he is still probably in credit in terms of his fielding ability." But both brothers will have needed no reminding that Nathan dropped Alastair Cook three times, the third of them an absolute clanger at backward point when an easy chance rebounded off his chest.

It seems he did not find Cardiff the easiest seeing ground, which is worrying both for McCullum and Glamorgan as he has just signed up to play for the county in the Friends Life t20. He might be checking the long-term weather forecast, and the small print in his contract.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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