|Scorecard:||England v New Zealand|
|Player:||JC Buttler, JT Ball|
|Event:||ICC Champions Trophy 2017|
|Other links:||The Cricketer|
First the rain, then the world-class Kane Williamson had the English contingent worrying that the hosts may be scuppered at Cardiff. But the Welsh weather prevailed, and Englands bowlers superbly backed up the batsmen to secure a semi-final place.
If they hadnt won, it could have meant a winner-takes-all showdown against Australia on Saturday. As it stands, England will top the group whatever the result at Edgbaston, and have the added bonus of being able to send Steve Smiths men home early.
The old cliché, top teams win when they are not at their best. It is a sign of a well-drilled unit that can come through a match where it perhaps hasnt all clicked, and come out the other side victorious.
England werent poor today, far from it; it ended up a near complete performance, the batting just didnt hit the lofty heights their talent so often allows them.
At times it was like a ramshackle old Reliant Robin that had been fitted with a Porsche 911 engine. England were stop-start. At times they burst into life, they were spluttering through smog at others.
We are so used to England tearing off the line like a Formula One motor. Streamlined, bolted together with carbon fiber, down force, computer mechanics and science.
It is a mark off how far England have come since the 2015 World Cup, that they reached 310 without really getting out of third gear, and it still felt a bit short. In the end, it would be plenty.
300 has almost become a bare minimum. Since the World Cup, England have scored 300+ on 23 occasions, the nearest competition is South Africa with 13. Batting first they have passed that mark on 11 of their last 13 digs.
Only four English batsmen were required to pick up a bat at The Oval as Hales, Root and Morgan cruised to the set total. Today the entire XI would get a crack with England struggling to put on substantial partnerships.
Jason Roy settled into his innings, crunching a confidence-boosting drive through the covers to get off the mark. Although these days players are told to back themselves unrelentingly, Roy was perhaps sensible to take it easy moving along to 13 from 23. A sluggishly sluggish rate for Roy who has made a name for himself attacking with an explosive thrust that would make NASA stand up and pay attention. When he rambled across his stumps allowing Adam Milne to bowl him round the legs, the Surrey man was understandably livid with himself.
Roy and Alex Hales have now not shared an opening stand of fifty or more since they piled on 256* against Sri Lanka in June 2016.
Hales and Root on the other hand have shared five century and nine fifty stands in 23 ODI innings. Todays partnership ended at 81 when Hales fell one ball after depositing Milne far over long-off. Milne roared back to bowl the opener with his very next delivery.
Root, as usual, settled into proceedings with the ease of the Welsh breeze removing Bruce Oxenfords headgear, and looked well on course to score back-to-back hundreds.
Eoin Morgan came and went, wafting at a wide delivery from Corey Anderson, before Ben Stokes and Root added 54 for the fourth wicket.
Roots white-ball traits are well known, we are so used to seeing him tick over, rotate the strike, score off a high percentage of balls, he is always in the game. So when he became somewhat starved of seeing the ball, the frustration told. His flat -footed swipe at an Anderson delivery ended up being dragged onto his stumps.
Stokes - like Hales - hit his 10th ODI fifty and looked well placed to do something significant. Instead he fell looking to lift a Trent Boult delivery over the keeper but only succeeded in picking out Milne at third man who swallowed the chance.
Moeen - who hooked hard to short fine leg where Boult took a superb catch diving to his left - and Adil Rashid could only add 12 apiece as Englands innings threatened to fall well short of a par score.
The innings would be saved by Jos Buttler - with a notable nod towards Liam Plunkett who stood firm at the other end in a 49-run partnership.
An initially sedate Buttler held the back-end of the innings together. It took the gloveman 24 balls to register his first boundary even that was a bump off the helmet over the keeper for four - before starting reel off some of his more notable hits.
Buttler went from serene to savage in one delivery - scooping Boult high towards the lone cameraman way up in the camera gantry at the Taff End. Jos continued the trend, bludgeoning Milne over long-off baseball style the following over, finishing with 61 from 48 and guiding England beyond 300 yet again.
Williamson - who hit a hundred against Australia at Edgbaston - was always going to be the crux of New Zealands chase. The Kiwi captain took a Liam Plunkett bouncer to the side of the helmet when he was on 29 but strode on to a 30th ODI fifty.
Williamson was in, set, and on the charge.
Stokes ginger-tinged Golden Arm accounted for the big wicket of big Martin Guptill who has the ability to go extremely big when the levers start swinging.
Ross Taylor, with all the experience of 188 ODIs and 6,348 runs joined his captain in the middle, from there, New Zealand began to drag the match from Englands grasp.
Another five overs of the captain and Taylor together, New Zealand could have taken this one from England. As it was, Mark Wood got the crucial breakthrough, Neil Broom sauntered out, and England wrestled back control.
The delivery to remove Williamson was a rapid, rising dart that reared up surprising the batsman, took the thumb of the Blackcap skipper and introduced itself to the palms of Buttlers gloves.
Williamson was only at the crease because Jake Ball, in his first over, bowled Luke Ronchi with a beauty through the gate.
Balls 10 overs at The Oval went for 82. Today he ended up with figures of 2 for 32 from eight. He didnt concede a run off the bat until his 18th delivery. A highly redeeming-performance, repaying the faith his captain had shown by handing him the new nut.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2017 The Cricketer)