Astle - cometh the hour...Photo Photosport
Only one innings of genuine class was played in this National Bank Series and it belonged to New Zealand's Nathan Astle, and on the back of that, the home team beat England by five wickets at Carisbrook in Dunedin today to win the series 3-2.
Astle finished on 122 not out and New Zealand 223/5 in response to England's 218/8, a total that always looked too small on a pitch and ground that consistently produces high scores in One-Day Internationals.
Astle made sure of that when defying all the predictions that batting second would be a danger for any number of reasons.
The fact was that New Zealand need not have been worried about such a prospect, they scored 290/6 to beat Pakistan here last year, and that against an attack much more fearsome than this England unit.
Astle achieved personal highlights of scoring his highest ODI score and passing 5000 runs in ODIs, the best by a New Zealander.
The 100-run stand by Astle and Craig McMillan was the first by either side in the series and bore out the adage that partnerships, especially through the middle stages of the innings with one of the batsmen going on to make a big score, are vital in winning matches.
New Zealand made good use of the flying start Astle and Chris Nevin gave the chase and even when losing three quick wickets, they had enough runs on board, and enough time to recover, to stop the rot and then rebuilding the innings.
It was a classic example of how to gain a position of complete dominance. Just as the side had used fielding to do that in the first game, and then built a succession of smaller partnerships to score 244 in Wellington, so they showed the required tactical nous in tonight's final situation.
New Zealand has shown on several occasions that it has the wherewithal to handle implementing a pre-arranged plan, especially against key players.
The treatment of Matthew Hoggard was symptomatic of the way the New Zealanders have targeted bowlers this summer. Having been on the receiving end of two fine spells from him during England's victories at Napier and Auckland, the batsmen, and Astle especially gave him a right royal shake-up.
In fact, Stephen Fleming's reference to Hoggard in the pre-match build-up should have been a warning that New Zealand had him in their destructive sights. He bowled only six overs at a cost of 41 runs. Andrew Flintoff was also hit, conceding one for 56 off 9.5 overs and three sixes, two in his last over.
McMillan played a patient and supportive hand for 44 while Lou Vincent provided a buffer to the speed wobbles and scored 20 to help Astle through the last stages.
New Zealand's bowlers had earlier cut England down and left them well short of the 250 that might have had New Zealand struggling at the end.
Owais ShahPhoto Photosport
Chris Cairns had his best spell of the series, let his slower ball out of the bag for the first time of the series and looked to be reaching his best touch for the Test series at the right time.
Daryl Tuffey continued his advance as a one-day bowler by taking three for 42 from his nine overs.
England's batting was dominated by the fourth-wicket partnership of 71 between Nasser Hussain, who scored his first half century in 13 games, and Owais Shah whose 57 was the second half century of his nine-game career.
It was an important chance for Shah to make the most of his opportunity for a long bat after having been able to show out during the 89-run rout in Wellington and he wasn't required in Napier.
Then with the England selectors wanting to assess as many players as they could Michael Vaughan came in for the Auckland game and scored a fine 59 which probably ranked as the best innings in terms of its one-day results of the tour.
However, his injury gave Shah an opening in Dunedin, and he took it.
The timing was important, as England lost Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight in identical fashion, caught by Chris Harris in the gully from Tuffey's bowling. And Graham Thorpe departed, bowled by Andre Adams for nine. At that stage England were 62/3 and in need of just the stand that Hussain and Shah managed.
Thorpe's dismissal followed a move by Fleming to block his scoring avenues by having a close gully and a close cover with point lurking a little deeper. The change only required one ball as the dismissal came immediately.
However, at just the stage they most needed to go on, Hussain fell victim to Tuffey, caught by Cairns on the square leg boundary for the neat 50.
Fleming brought Cairns back for the 39th over and he trapped Shah leg before wicket for 57.
That effectively put the brakes on the England scoring and in the just over 10 overs remaining they could score only 48 runs.
The bowlers were backed by another superb fielding display. England, by comparison, are far too inconsistent in their fielding and their poor catching again denied them the chances to apply pressure, none moreso than when Knight dropped a hard Astle drive when he was on 15.
Astle certainly made him, and England, pay, but then he might argue that he was fated to balance things out after having some poor decisions against him in two earlier matches in the series.