It was a surprisingly clear day in Cardiff as fans packed into the SWALEC stadium ahead of England’s second Champions Trophy fixture against New Zealand.

With the competition having already been racked with rain affected games and a horrific weather forecast for the rest of the country, the crowd had their fingers crossed as they entered the stadium that this match would not endure a similar fate: reduced overs and a result determined by Duckworth Lewis.

Whilst the wind was harsh, the weather seemed to be somewhat neutral as the two captains took to the field for the toss. It came as no surprise that, when New Zealand correctly called heads, they opted to bowl, in overcast conditions and with potential for rain in the air.

The ball was doing a bit for the visitors, with overhead conditions meaning that the ball was nipping around at the crease making it difficult in periods for the batsmen and the sodden outfield, making boundaries harder to come by than usual.

After a steady first few overs Jason Roy was the first wicket to fall for England in the eighth, continuing his run of low scores. Whilst Roy’s performances so far this summer have been less than memorable, he has shown over the past few years his formidable batting can win matches, he will hopefully get a big score under his belt in the coming games, finding his form.

Whilst no batsman managed to score a hundred, there were significant contributions from Alex Hales upfront, Joe Root and Ben Stokes in the middle overs and finally Jos Buttler at the end of the innings. Once again the variety of contributions highlighted the strength in depth of England’s batting line-up which, if on form, will stand them in good stead for the rest of the competition.

From a bowling perspective New Zealand, in particular Adam Milne and Corey Anderson, were disciplined with the ball, taking regular wickets and breaking partnerships at key times. At one point England looked in the perfect position to post a score of 350+ which would have, undoubtedly, pushed New Zealand out of contention, before a succession of wickets at crucial points restricted England to 310.

As such, at the halfway point England looked perhaps 10 runs short of a par score, however the scoreboard pressure of accumulating over 300 in difficult overhead conditions made the score a competitive and defendable total.

During the interval a short, sharp and incredibly hard shower left the outfield (and fans) rather wet but, fortunately, had little impact on the actual game in terms of length and delays. As England took to the field conditions didn’t differ greatly from the first innings, setting the precedent for a close and very evenly fought game.

England got off to an impressive start with the ball, the first wicket coming with just 1 on the board for New Zealand, Jake Ball striking in his first over, removing Luke Ronchi’s middle stump.

Whilst England were immediately on the front foot they suffered a somewhat quiet few middle overs, with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor building a steady partnership, keeping up with the total provided by Duckworth Lewis. After an uncomfortable start riddled with mistiming of the ball and a knock on the helmet, Williamson looked well set for the first hundred of the day before he gloved one through to Butler off the bowling of Mark Wood.

With the main threat in the New Zealand batting line-up removed, the opposition struggled through the remainder of their innings showing their vulnerability further down the order. What was perhaps most worrying for New Zealand was the fact that the majority of their batting line-up looked uncomfortable at the crease, even as the innings developed, something they will need to eradicate if they make it past the group stages of the competition.

“Having been branded the competition favourites before the start of the series, England will be hoping that their strong and formidable start will hold them in good stead for the remaining games.”

In the final fifteen overs it was Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid who tore through the batting line-up, Rashid finishing on figures of 2-48 and Plunkett 4-55. The victory not only offered a lot of confidence and momentum for the host nation going into the final group game, but it also sealed their place in the competition’s semi-finals.

Having lost Chris Woakes to injury in the first match, it was good to see England’s bowlers putting on a confident performance without the man who has been such an integral player across all formats. Ball in particular bowled exceptionally accurately, claiming a wicket and two maidens in his opening spellhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke5uU_-SN1Q, standing up well to the challenging task of opening the bowling with Wood.

As aforementioned, England will be looking to take this momentum forward into the final group game and the remainder of the competition. Having been branded the competition favourites before the start of the series, England will be hoping that their strong and formidable start will hold them in good stead for the remaining games.

This England team are one of if not the strongest limited overs side the country has ever produced and, whilst they are still developing and learning, this is perhaps one of their best chances to win a world competition. The progression they have made since the 2015 ICC World Cup, is nothing short of phenomenal. Whilst the competition is tough, England have a strong and talented enough squad to be able to challenge for the title and will hopefully, in a week’s time, be lifting the trophy at the Oval.

The team went on to knock Australia out of the Champions Trophy at Egbaston yesterday helped by a fantastic century from Stokes and 87 from captain Eoin Morgan which will give the ‘new’ England side massive confidence when they return to Cardiff next Wednesday.

Nottinghamshire’s Hales and Ball are progressing formidably while Root, Morgan and Stokes are in the form of their lives. With Rashid and Plunkett also playing superbly, Trevor Bayliss can take enormous credit for drilling his side to be one of the most competitive in the ODI format this year.

Laura Williamson

Image courtesy of Nic Redhead via flickr.com

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