With England's focus switching to Test cricket for the final leg of the New Zealand tour, Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach, was able to reflect on the end of his brief with some satisfaction. New Zealand may not be ranked among the toughest opponents in the world but two series wins, including a comeback from 1-0 down in the ODIs, represented a positive conclusion to Giles' first two months in the job.
Giles took over from Andy Flower in the short formats in January and began his reign with a 3-2 defeat in India. In the opening match, England managed to beat India at home in an ODI for the first time in 14 attempts and, although the series was lost, there were encouraging signs in traditionally inhospitable conditions - particularly as key players such as Jonathan Trott, James Anderson and Graeme Swann were rested.
When England were beaten in the first match in Hamilton last Sunday, it stretched their run of defeats against New Zealand to five in a row, but they came back strongly to claim a first ODI series win in the country since 1992. The performances of the bowlers, in particular Steven Finn and the returning Anderson, as well as further evidence of Joe Root's rapid progress, brought impressive wins in Napier and Auckland and means Giles can return to England confident that he has the squad to mount a challenge during the Champions Trophy.
"We always knew India would be a difficult challenge. [Losing] 3-2, you can't say it was a good result but it's better than results of late there," Giles said. "There were some positive signs from a side that probably didn't have our most senior players in it.
"Coming here, we knew New Zealand would be very difficult to beat, on their home soil. They like to play it up that they're always the underdogs, even here. But they play a very tough form of cricket, and have some very good cricketers. So to win both series is great for me, and the team have worked very hard as well."
In conditions not dissimilar to those likely to be encountered during the Champions Trophy, to be played in England in June, Anderson and Finn collected 12 wickets between them and both managed impressive economy rates of less than four. Perhaps more importantly, as England look to balance their one-day side with a seamer who can also bat at No. 7, Chris Woakes claimed six wickets at 22.66. Finn also successfully trialled a new, shortened run-up, in an attempt to cure his stump-kicking problem, which appeared to augment his pace and control.
"To have gone 1-0 down in this series and come back and win it is very impressive," Giles said. "The performances, particularly with the ball in the last two games, have been outstanding. Steven Finn, in this last match, was fantastic. He and Anderson are going to be a handful."
The only New Zealand player to consistently hurt England's attack was Brendon McCullum, who hit three blistering half-centuries. Such was the force of his batting, however, he sustained a side strain during the final ODI. Although he is expected to be first for the first Test, starting on March 6, the question of who might lead the side in the case of McCullum's enforced absence has reopened the vexed issue of the captaincy, which was removed from Ross Taylor in controversial circumstances last year.
Taylor subsequently opted out of the tour of South Africa, where Kane Williamson was reportedly named as McCullum's Test back-up. However, speaking after the announcement of the Test squad, the coach, Mike Hesson, said that there was no official vice-captain. "We've got a leadership group of three and we haven't formed that leadership group for this series," Hesson was quoted as saying by Fairfax, adding that a decision on who might step in for McCullum would be made when the squad convened in Dunedin on March 3.
England tour of New Zealand