England's batting falters again as New Zealand keep series alive with win

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New Zealand's Lea Tahuhu (left) celebrates after taking the wicket of England's Heather Knight during the third ODI at Uptonsteel County Ground, Leicester. - PA
New Zealand's Lea Tahuhu (left) celebrates after taking the wicket of England's Heather Knight during the third ODI at Uptonsteel County Ground, Leicester. - PA

New Zealand 181/7 beat England 178ao by 3 wickets (25 balls remaining)

New Zealand finally overcame England with a three-wicket win in the third ODI to keep the five-match series alive. Two maiden landmarks did the trick for the tourists: a searing five-wicket haul from returning quick Lea Tahuhu and a first half-century (70*) against a top-tier side for Maddy Green. That we had to wait until the final ball of New Zealand’s innings for the first six, struck sweetly off Tahuhu’s bat to win the game, reflected its nature: a scrappy, low scoring, stop-start affair.

A triumphant Tahuhu makes for a compelling narrative. She is only recently back playing international cricket following three surgeries to remove a mole on her landing foot, at the time suspected to be cancerous. Tahuhu, who has been "like a caged animal" according to her captain, Sophie Devine, has been building towards her five for 37 too. She has bowled throughout this series with good pace and line, hurrying any batter that stands in her way. Tuesday’s returns were just reward: a caged animal finally freed.

The visitors’ victory was not without its wobbles, however. Katherine Brunt struck an unbeaten 49 from number eight while Kate Cross at number 10 was, in the absence of any further contributors, England’s next best with a career-high score of 29. The batting alone was not enough to satisfy Brunt, who was soon tearing in to claim four wickets for just 22 runs. It made for a game more exciting than it should have been, New Zealand scrambling home with just three wickets in hand in the 46th over.

Katherine Brunt celebrates after taking the wicket of New Zealand's Sophie Devine. - REUTERS
Katherine Brunt celebrates after taking the wicket of New Zealand's Sophie Devine. - REUTERS

It should never have been so close. By the time Tahuhu had her fifth wicket, and England’s seventh, the hosts had just 78 runs on a pitch, and an outfield, that didn’t seem to have too much wrong with it. Only Brunt, drawing on all her 130 ODI caps, with the aid of Cross, prevented anything worse than the 178 England were eventually bowled out for.

Brunt provided the application and temperament absent from those before her. Like Danni Wyatt in the second ODI, hitting an unbeaten 63, Brunt likes bat on ball and the world against her. Throw Virat Kohli into that brand too. This, however, was not what the situation called for. Instead it was for someone to shepherd England’s tail (again) and trying (but ultimately failing) to make use of all their allotted 50 overs.

It is a familiar situation, England have been bowled out batting first on five of five occasions this summer. This weakness has not been lost on New Zealand, winning all three tosses and inserting the hosts every time. Nor will it be on future opponents. England have a middle order which has failed on every occasion to win games for them. That they are 2-1 up in this series is down largely to England’s impressive bowling and some freak lower-order partnerships that should never have had the opportunity in the first place.

While the loss is a blow to England in the context of the series, it should be an impetus they need to address those middle-order issues which have long been loitering. England have a good team, a very good team, but on each occasion have left us wanting more. They almost need a calamitous collapse and a ruthless routing in order to review an approach which so far has them faring fine on paper but for how long and, crucially, will it do so against better opposition too?

Amy Jones (innings of 2, 1 and 21) is arguably better now behind the stumps than even Sarah Taylor once was and has had an encouraging season both batting and leading on the domestic stage. Lauren Winfield-Hill (21, 39 and 4) likewise, while Sophia Dunkley (5, 11 and 6) is England’s next best thing as a hard hitting middle-order batter but must learn to adjust. None of it is calamitous but this is another frustrating batting performance from a line-up packed with talent but which must learn to find a way when things are not always going theirs.

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