England headed south for Auckland yesterday disappointed to have lost their final warm-up match but encouraged too by a clutch of impressive individual performances at the Cobham Oval.
Stuart Broad’s second three-wicket return in as many days brought him combined figures of 6-46 after one comfortable win and then this narrow defeat against a New Zealand XI.
England’s Twenty20 captain has therefore done as much as reasonably could be expected to prove form and fitness, on his return after the heel injury which cut short his Test tour of India before Christmas.
Broad also produced an athletic catch to see off danger man Colin Munro as England unexpectedly narrowed the margins and, from an unpromising position, took the outcome to the last ball before their hosts overhauled 170-5 with three wickets in hand.
Tom Latham’s career-best 64 helped England’s opponents past a par total, which owed most to more clean and inventive striking from Eoin Morgan (51no) and Jos Buttler (51).
In a near action replay of the tourists’ first batting performance at the same venue 24 hours earlier, the middle-order pair were the most telling contributors after a solid but unspectacular start above them.
There were two differences yesterday, though.
First, it was former Yorkshire batsman Michael Lumb rather than Luke Wright who was the pick of the top three – following Tuesday’s 25 with 45.
More significantly, despite Broad’s best efforts and a tidy spell too from Samit Patel, this time England’s bowlers were unable to defend a total – and they will therefore begin a three-match series against New Zealand on Saturday with a mixed report from their warm-up campaign.
Lumb, however, took issue with the suggestion that England’s attack leaked too many runs.
“I wouldn’t say we lost it,” he said.
“The nature of this game is guys can play well, and I thought they did. We dragged it back to take it deep and get that close. You’ve got to give them a bit of credit.
“I think it was a good score. But one of their guys got in and batted really well.”
Lumb sees this hard-fought encounter as an accurate indication of what is to come.
“I think it will be tight (against New Zealand). A lot of people have written them off, but you can’t take them lightly.
“It would be foolish to do that – they’ve just beaten South Africa in a one-day series over there. They’re a proud nation, and they’ll come really hard at us.”
The left-handed opener for one will start with confidence after getting in twice this week, and with recent runs under his belt too in Australia’s Big Bash League.
“The pitches here are similar to where I’ve been, in Australia, so I should cope all right,” he said.
“I think we set it up for Jos and ‘Morgs’ – these guys in the middle – and that’s (how to play) Twenty20.
“That’s the gameplan, not losing wickets at the top, and teeing it up and giving them full licence to express themselves – as they’ve shown in the last two games.”
Buttler in particular has been in outstanding form, smashing 11 fours and five sixes from just 55 balls for 108 runs and once-out in his two innings.
“He’s in superb nick, and he’s very hard to bowl to at the death,” said Lumb. “You don’t know where to bowl to the guy.”
He is heartened too by England’s resilience yesterday – albeit in defeat – and Broad’s evident well-being.
“It was good, especially for the four bowlers, to be put under some pressure – and if it comes down to it in the main games, we’ll have had some experience a couple of times here.
“It’s great to have Broady back. His body is moving well, and he’s bowling nicely.
“He’s obviously had a few little niggles, but he’s back fit and raring to go. We’re really chuffed with that.”
Australia clinched their one-day international series against West Indies with a 39-run victory in the third match at Manuka Oval in Canberra.
The run-filled victory, achieved on the back of a century from the returning Shane Watson and a superb spell of bowling from James Faulkner, means Australia lead the five-match series 3-0.
Faulkner (4-48) ripped apart the West Indies middle and lower order with an inspired display, capitalising on a resounding 122 from Watson earlier in the day.
The opener, back following a calf injury sustained during the Boxing Day Test, claimed man-of-the-match honours after helping Australia to 329-7.
Ottis Gibson has signed a new three-year contract to remain as West Indies head coach.
Gibson was thought to be a serious contender for the director of cricket role at Warwickshire, who instead promoted Dougie Brown from assistant coach. However, Gibson has put any disappointment behind him by re-affirming himself to the Windies and he will lead their charge in the 2015 World Cup, according to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
“I enjoy being involved in West Indies cricket and it is something I’m very excited about considering what we have achieved – especially in the last year – beating New Zealand at home in all three formats and winning the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka,” said Gibson.