New Zealand aim to keep series alive as England look to top-order batters for stability

New Zealand team © Getty Images

It has been 39 days since New Zealand landed in England for the series. Their rustiness on the field was visible in the shortest format, but the tourists had fought back in the second T20I to force a decider, which also saw them stretch the well-oiled English side till the final over for a narrow loss. The first two ODIs saw New Zealand crumble in the chase of a very modest total after the rain interruption. With series on the line, it’s all or nothing for New Zealand at Grace Road on Tuesday (September 21).

New Zealand’s bowlers have been faultless in the entire tour so far, apart from the first T20I where they conceded 184 runs. It has been an achievement on their part to bowl out the side that has been consistent in the entire season. In the second ODI, Hannah Rowe and Leigh Kasperek stopped the hard-hitting England batters before they could hurt New Zealand. The only thing that didn’t go their way in that bowling innings was the gutsy partnership of 51 runs between Danielle Wyatt and Natasha Farrant.

Sophie Devine admitted that the loss after being so close to the victory will hurt her side, however, she was proud of her team’s performance as they have started to push the buttons of the top-ranked side. “We need to take positives out of (the loss). We really challenged the English, who are World Champions in the 50-over format, in these last two games and we were in a really good position to win it. I look back to last summer and we were not really close to challenging them. So, to know that we are really starting to push these guys and dominate the big patches of the game (are) the good signs moving forward in the series.”

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Even though New Zealand have improved a lot since the last World Cup, they will have to face other top-ranked teams like Australia, South Africa, and India in the home edition in less than six months. Their top-order batters, apart from Amy Satterthwaite, who scored unbeaten 79 runs in the first ODI, have struggled against the English bowling attack. Rain interruptions did derail the momentum for the visitors in the second ODI, but some of the bad shot selection was equally responsible for the collapse that led to a defeat by 13 runs.

England, on the other hand, have become the side that can clinch the victory from the jaws of defeat. The conversations before the series were about the potential burnout of the players due to the jam-packed schedule, but they have ended this chatter by winning four out of five matches against New Zealand.

Their experienced top and the middle order has struggled in the ODIs, but they have found players who were able to build a crucial partnership to rescue them from difficult situations. It was captain Heather Knight and Katherine Brunt in the first ODI who took the game away from the visitors while Wyatt and Farrant provided a decent platform in the second encounter. England would ideally prefer the other players also to find their form in the series, but with a 2-0 lead in the series, the rotation policy might lead to changes in playing XI.

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By far, the highlight of the series has been the endurance of England’s bowling attack. In the absence of a regular opening pace bowler Anya Shrubsole, Natalie Sciver has been given the opportunity to open the bowling with Brunt, and she has been right on the money. Meanwhile, Charlotte Dean, who was playing in her second match showed her composure under pressure to take four wickets.

The clock is ticking for New Zealand. They have a very limited time to turn things around for themselves. Will they overcome their issues and post the first win in the 50 over format, or will England take the series with another clutch performance?

Squads:

England: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Natasha Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danielle Wyatt

New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Amy Satterthwaite, Suzie Bates, Lauren Down, Claudia Green, Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Jess Kerr, Katey Martin (wk), Leigh Kasperek, Molly Penfold, Jessica McFadyen (wk), Thamsyn Newton, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu