New Zealand v England, 5th ODI, Christchurch February 23, 2008

England shown up as poor value

England were the only side not to be represented at the multi-million dollar IPL auction in Mumbai. Having witnessed some of the performances in New Zealand the franchise owners are probably thinking they haven't missed out on much
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A one-day lesson: Brendon McCullum regularly showed England the way to play early in an innings © Getty Images
 

England were the only side not to be represented at the multi-million dollar IPL auction in Mumbai. Having witnessed some of the performances in New Zealand the franchise owners will probably be thinking they haven't missed out on much. England's one-day side has endured much worse than the 3-1 defeat against a side rated No. 3 in the world, but it's because of the pre-series optimism that the outcome feels like a significant disappointment.

While England's Test fortunes took a dip, the one-day form moved the opposite way as Peter Moores and Paul Collingwood began forming a cohesive unit which beat India at home and then, most significantly, Sri Lanka away, even if that result needs qualifying by the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan. They arrived in New Zealand confident and with the local newspapers full of headlines about Shane Bond ending his international career in favour of the Indian Cricket League. The two Twenty20s went emphatically England's way and there was talk of a whitewash.

Two matches into the series there was still suggestions of a whitewash, but now it was the home side who looked like running away with the contest. To England's credit they recovered from the ten-wicket defeat in Hamilton, one of their most abject ODI performances, and turned the tables in Auckland before pulling off a tie in Napier when the game appeared gone. However, like six years ago when they came back from 2-0 down to enter the final game 2-2, taking something from the series proved too big a task.

In 2002, it was a fine century from Nathan Astle that guided New Zealand home - after a wobble against Darren Gough similar to that induced by Ryan Sidebottom on Saturday - and in 2008 it was a breathtaking assault from Brendon McCullum which sealed the result. McCullum's 43-ball 77 in Christchurch was a microcosm of the series and why New Zealand came out on top. Their top order packed a huge punch and was capable of utilising the fielding restrictions on small grounds, something that England only managed once when Alastair Cook and Phil Mustard added 158 in Napier.

England's problem was that they couldn't think on their feet. It was as though they went out with preconceived plans and were hell-bent on sticking to them. Again McCullum provides a prime example. The fast bowlers were intent on banging the ball in to exploit a weakness they must have seen during all the hours they spend on their laptops. It worked once in five innings, when James Anderson cramped him for room in Auckland, but in the four other innings the only catches on offer were in the crowd.

Perhaps England were lulled into a false sense of security. Bond had packed his bags and Andrew Strauss, even though he wasn't part of the one-day squad, said with the other New Zealand bowlers "you pretty much know what you're going to get", which annoyed Chris Martin no end. By the end of the series three of New Zealand's attack finished in the top 20 in the ICC rankings, with Daniel Vettori at No. 1. England's highest current bowler is James Anderson at No. 24 and he went rapidly backwards in this series.

Vettori's top rating is a telling factor and he bowled beautifully throughout. He conceded three-and-a-half an over and again showed the value of being able to vary pace and flight. Jeetan Patel, limited to two matches, also exploited England's continued weakness in working out a game plan against spin with three economical wickets including Kevin Pietersen in the decider.

 
 
Vettori didn't struggle with the small boundaries and the gamble of fielding just three front-line bowlers failed for Moores and Collingwood
 

In contrast Graeme Swann, who played such an impressive role in Sri Lanka, was a peripheral figure by the end having been unceremoniously smashed out of the team. In the post-mortem, Peter Moores said England "would normally field a spinner" but the odd shaped grounds and small boundaries made them favour the wobbly medium-pacers. Vettori didn't struggle with the small boundaries and the gamble of fielding just three front-line bowlers failed for Moores and Collingwood.

There is a certain irony in the debate about the virtues of dibbly-dobbly medium-pacers in ODIs, as it was how New Zealand used to build their team. On one of the satellite channels you are currently able to watch re-runs of the 1992 World Cup when Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris and Willie Watson helped New Zealand to the semi-finals.

Fast-forward to 2008 and you still have Scott Styris trotting in off a few paces making life tough for the batsmen and New Zealand used off-cutters to great effect in Wellington and Chrischurch. However, they never let England's medium-pacers settle and Dimitri Mascarenhas couldn't provide the same strangle. By the end Collingwood didn't seem to trust him when the pressure was on, preferring Luke Wright for the final over in Napier. For all the lower-order power they bring with the bat, there is probably only room for one of Mascarenhas and Wright in any given side.

Those decisions, though, can wait. The one-day team's next engagement isn't until June when they have the return series against New Zealand. It will be a chance to see what lessons they have learned from the last three weeks. Now England have to focus on securing a must-needed Test series win and although they should prevail, New Zealand always enjoy the opportunity of challenging perceptions.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo