Heather Knight century helps England to edge out New Zealand and take ODI series victory

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Cricket - Women - One Day International - England v New Zealand - County Cricket Ground, Derby, Britain - September 23, 2021 England's Heather Knight celebrates reaching her century - Action Images via Reuters
Cricket - Women - One Day International - England v New Zealand - County Cricket Ground, Derby, Britain - September 23, 2021 England's Heather Knight celebrates reaching her century - Action Images via Reuters

England 245/7 beat New Zealand 244/8 by three wickets (three balls remaining)

England captain Heather Knight struck the first century of the international women’s summer to guide England to their highest ever run chase in Thursday’s ODI against New Zealand. With this victory they also seal the five-match series after moving to an unassailable 3-1 lead.

New Zealand, inserted for the first time in this series, posted the highest first innings total from either side since their arrival in England. They accumulated steadily towards 244 and it really did feel like an accumulation; at no point did England let it run away. Despite the relatively large total, on a good pitch, fast outfield and bathed in the Derby sunshine, they should have had more. They could not, and England reinforce the notion that both teams are more comfortable chasing. Since 2010, England have now won on 10 of 11 occasions chasing against New Zealand.

Despite the tourists posting consecutive 50-run partnerships for the first time this series, wickets fell too regularly for them to launch from the platform they appeared to be perennially setting. There was an Atlas-like feel to things as England’s bowlers took wickets in clumps. First two to Anya Shrubsole, returning from injury, then three to off-spinner Charlie Dean before Freya Davies swept up with two of her own.

For Knight (101 from 107), it was a stand-up-and-show-'em sort of innings. England have a strong batting line-up but are yet to demonstrate the art of persevering when things aren’t quite pinging off the middle of the bat. Knight, ever the leader, now has. The England captain started scratchily, reaching for deliveries just back of a length here, edging past the keeper there. But it was those strokes which require conviction which got her going, two reverse sweeps which shot to the boundary off New Zealand’s spinners and her touch was back.

Knight, by now playing fluently, instilled a confidence in Amy Jones too, who hadn’t gone past 30 in ODIs yet this summer. Jones (40 from 63) partnered Knight capably, entering the crease after England had lost three wickets for 19 runs to put on a clean 100 between them, the first century stand between either side this summer. A fifty-run partnership between Lauren Winfield-Hill (33 from 46) and Tammy Beaumont (16 from 31) got things off to a faultless start for the first 10 overs before again the middle order frailties kicked in. New Zealand seamer Hannah Rowe, nipping the ball back in off a length was the catalyst, picking off four of England’s top five and conceding just 26 runs in the process.

However, by the time Knight departed, another 50-run partnership was in the bag, this time with Danni Wyatt, who played intently but composedly for a run-a-ball 27. That England can achieve a history-making chase despite some lingering questions around the middle order will instil a confidence in a side whose next scheduled series is now against the dominant Australians, on home soil, in four months time.

For England’s bowlers, it was an odd one. For the first time in seven ODIs and for only the fourth time in matches where she has bowled her full 10 overs, Sophie Ecclestone went wicketless. Mental and physical exhaustion may have finally kicked in for the 22-year-old left-arm spinner, who has endured an unprecedented summer of cricket. What this did provide, however, was an opportunity for another to step into the void, which 20-year-old Charlie Dean duly did.

England have been unable to settle on a spin combination of recent to complement Ecclestone. However, in Dean they have found an athlete with an easy, replicable action, who arcs the ball in at speed to create an unsettling spin and bounce. Almost the mirror of Ecclestone, in fact. Dean now adds three wickets on Thursday to her four-wicket haul in the second ODI to lead the wickets tally with just one match to go.

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