Fleming flays England's flat bowling
In his newspaper column this morning, Michael Atherton wrote that England are no better at one-day cricket than they were five years ago, and that they were in serious danger of failing to qualify for the final of a "second-rate triangular tournament". Well, today's result at Bristol illustrated that point further, and confirmed that New Zealand were correctly touted as the tournament favourites.
England didn't play badly, but after all their much-publicised batting problems, it was their bowling which let them down today. The selectors brought in an extra front-line bowler in Sajid Mahmood for this match to give the attack that extra touch of fizz, but it all went rather flat as New Zealand, led by the cool and calculated Stephen Fleming, secured their spot in the final - and they didn't even need to use Chris Cairns.
Fleming and Nathan Astle, with 400 matches between them, are New Zealand's leading one-day run scorers, and they used all their nous and experience to blunt an attack with plenty of huff and puff, but, bar Stephen Harmison, one with little bite. Their commanding opening stand of 122 effectively won them the match and consigned England to their fifth loss out of eight completed games. New Zealand undoubtedly had the better of the conditions once Michael Vaughan lost another toss, but once the juice had gone out the Bristol track, England drifted towards defeat, and maybe out of their own one-day party.
The England dressing-room wall always has a memo on it reminding the team that two wickets need to be taken in the field, but the fielders needed more than that today. Harmison was again the pick, while James Anderson bowled with good control. Sajid Mahmood can be excused his opening-night stage fright, but the biggest concern will be Darren Gough's lack of wickets.
After his disappointing series in the Caribbean, in which he took only four wickets, rumours were flying that that was it for Gough. However, he has returned for the NatWest Series, but has only had one success so far. Apart from their last match against West Indies, you have to go back to Dhaka against Bangladesh last November to find the last time England bowled a side out in a one-dayer.
One plus was Andrew Flintoff's sensible and yet scintillating innings. Such is his brutal big hitting, it was a surprise that this was his first hundred in 73 attempts, and he has so far answered England's SOS call in style. But his and Andrew Strauss's resuscitating hundred stand still couldn't hide some growing pains.
Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, last week stressed how important a good start is to the innings in one-day cricket, and that continues to be England's Achilles heel in this series. While Fleming and Astle have put together stands of 48, 42 and 122 so far, Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick have managed 0, 24, 55, and 4 in comparison. With their make or break clash against West Indies looming on Tuesday, England could do with Vaughan, in particular, finding his feet again - as well as winning a toss.