“It feels strange,” Kieron Pollard said at the toss as West Indies played New Zealand in the first T20I and he stood in the middle of Eden Park surrounded by a crowd. Covid-19 had changed cricket, but the first signs of the game starting to heal and move on were evident in Auckland as the people in the ground reveled in some sensational – and at times unbelievable – cricket.
There was Lockie Ferguson, insisting that he won’t bowl a click slower than 150. He picked up his first five-wicket haul in T20Is and while that is memorable on its own, the spell that he bowled – the way he had the world champions ducking and weaving and wearing the ball because they were too slow to react – was the more riveting spectacle. Ferguson finished with figures of 4-0-21-5, with West Indies not in control of 18 of the 24 balls he delivered on Friday evening.
Pollard vs Ferguson was only a two-ball event – “Didn’t face him. Smart boy.”, the West Indies captain said with a chuckle at the post-match press conference – but the rest of the New Zealand bowlers took a pasting. From 59 for 5 in the sixth over, Pollard took his team to 180 for 7 in a rain-reduced 16-overs-a-side game.
“For me, when the bowlers have their tails up, you have to try something as a batter,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to make one mistake. The rain and the nature of the pitch sort of helped us, with the ball coming through. The opening bowlers were a bit short. But he (Ferguson) changed his length and bowled a bit fuller, and that’s why he was successful. Again, daunting task, but these are the situations you train for as individuals, when you’re team is in trouble you try to get them out.”
Ferguson knew – even though he was ripping them apart – that West Indies would be able to recover if their captain stayed at the crease long enough.
“When you face these guys – especially Kieron, who has been very successful – over the last few months, winning every competition there is, you’re under the pump [as] Eden Park gets even smaller,” Ferguson said.
“I thought we bowled a couple of yorkers that only missed by a little bit and they went a long way into the boundary. Once again, we have to look at our plans and execute them better going forward. That’s pretty cliché in T20 cricket. You have good days and you have bad [days]. If we continue to improve, we’ll be better for it. But you’ve got to tip your hat when a guy plays an innings like that, especially after we got quick wickets but he settled himself and had a quick burst in the end.”
Pollard made 75 off only 37 balls, and if that sounds like he walked in and went berserk, think again. He took care to get himself in. He respected New Zealand’s momentum when they took five wickets for one run. He fought against it, bit by bit, until the umpire mistakenly ruled him out lbw in the ninth over. The review was emphatic. The next ball went for six. The sleeping giant had awakened.
When asked about the official’s decision and his animated response to it, Pollard said, “You take it in whatever perception you want. I’m not gonna say anything. Just wanted it to be consistent. Asking for consistency. Being a visiting team, there are some things you expect but we’ll continue to fight.”
A grand spell of fast bowling. A back-to-the-wall batting masterclass from a T20 legend. A hint of controversy. This riveting game turned in the end due to some rusty cricket from West Indies, who had only come out of quarantine yesterday.
Keemo Paul then bowled four no-balls in the 14th over of the chase – one overstep and three high full tosses. New Zealand had slowly been whittling down a frightful asking rate. From 115 required off 60, to 82 off 42 and then to 39 off 24, but at the end of that ten-ball over, they needed only 15 off 12.
“In terms of our disciplines, in the bowling aspect, I thought we were a bit erratic,” Pollard summed up. “And in international cricket, if you bowl so many no-balls and if you’re so inconsistent, you are definitely going to end up on the losing side. But it was an entertaining game of cricket for the fans and the general public, something they haven’t got to see in a very long time.”
West Indies’ waywardness was the result of their search for yorkers and they were forced into a place with so little margin of error by Jimmy Neesham. He came in after a run-out sent Ross Taylor back for a duck in the seventh over, but instead of that breakthrough proving a turning point for West Indies, it ended up one for New Zealand, as the left-hander carved up 48 match-winning runs in only 24 balls.
“Jimmy was a bit of a big brother to me in high school and we played a lot of age groups together,” Ferguson said. “But to be fair, the Black Caps are a pretty tight bunch of mates and when anyone does well and wins the game for us, then of course we get around them.”
“I think that’s a big part of our culture. We try to drive that. Obviously pumped that Sants (Mitchell Santner) and Neesh could get some runs and bat well at the end there. Certainly, we’ll celebrate tonight. It was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been part of. I was in the changing room for our whole batting innings not sure what to do!”
Eng vs SL 2021 – Jos Buttler ruled out of Sri Lanka white-ball series with calf injury
Dawid Malan added to ODI squad after MRI scans reveal small calf tear
Buttler, England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper, scored an unbeaten 68 opening the batting in the first T20I. According to the ECB, he “felt tightness and discomfort” at the end of the game and was sent for an MRI scan on Thursday morning, which revealed a small tear. He sat out the second T20I, which England won by five wickets.
England had already suggested they may use the Sri Lanka T20Is to experiment, with Jonny Bairstow moving up to open in Buttler’s absence – although he made a three-ball duck as England initially struggled in their chase of 112. Liam Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 helped secure victory, regularly opens in T20 cricket and could also deputise.
Dawid Malan, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter, has been added to the ODI squad, with Bairstow and Sam Billings in contention to take the gloves in the 50-over format. Billings scored his maiden ODI hundred last summer and would have been vying for a middle-order berth, regardless of Buttler’s availability.
“In terms of ODIs I had a really good summer last year and averaged 83 in that format so I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t get a gig but this team is a very hard one to get into to,” he said.
England have already secured the T20I series ahead Saturday’s third match, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The teams will then play three ODIs, at Chester-le-Street, The Oval and Bristol.
ENG vs SL 2nd T20I – Mickey Arthur on England and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s head coach said he wants the batsmen to be more proactive against a world-class England attack
“Just not enough runs again,” Arthur told the BBC, when asked for his take on his side’s defeat. “We’re coming up against a really good bowling attack. They’re ranked No. 1 in the world, we’re ranked No. 9, and you can see the difference. We’ve started a journey with a young team and for us it’s about getting better, competing, learning from every game and every experience and getting better and better as we go along.
“It’s tough. We’re consistently talking about freedom, about taking the handbrake off as a batting unit. But you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to and I thought England were world-class with the lengths they hit. They put us under a lot of pressure with the bat.
“We can be more proactive and we’ve got to go back and work on that. We can walk around the crease a little bit more and try to do different things but our batters are learning all the time, particularly in these conditions. We’ve got a really exciting batting unit in our conditions but it’s about transferring those skills to conditions outside our own environment.”
“I thought we bowled really well,” he said. “Our fielding has gone up to another level. Fielding is all about attitude, it’s measurable, and I think the guys are getting better and better with that. We’re really excited with our bowling unit and we’ve got a couple of guys that are injured as well, so when we get them back we’ll be good.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
England vs Sri Lanka T20Is – Liam Livingstone makes virtue of versatility in pitch for England World Cup role | Cricket
Teams can take a squad of 33 players to cover 15 starting positions in rugby’s next World Cup, and 23 for 11 spots in football’s, but cricket diverges from the norm. England will take a 15-man squad to the T20 World Cup this winter – albeit with the possibility of a couple of reserves as a Covid precaution – and as a result, the ability of back-up players to cover a range of roles is crucial.
With that in mind, Liam Livingstone has done his chances of inclusion no harm at all in the first two games of their T20I series against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. An innings of 29 not out off 26 balls and four tight overs of liquorice-all-sort spin that have cost 19 runs do not demand retention in themselves, but have demonstrated the flexibility that Livingstone would add to a touring party as a utility player.
“It’s something that I pride myself on, being as versatile as I can,” he said after the second T20I, in which he won the match award after steering England home from No. 6. “It’s something that’s rolled into my bowling as well, trying to bowl both legspin and offspin to give people different options [and] it’s the same with my batting, trying to make myself a player who can bat all the way from No. 1 to No. 8.”
While he has made a reputation for himself as a power-hitter who deals in sixes – in last year’s Big Bash, he scored a higher percentages of his runs in sixes (39.4%) than anyone else in the top 25 run-scorers – Livingstone’s innings on Thursday night demonstrated his willingness to adapt, with a single ramped six standing out alongside a series of clips and pushes into gaps to suit the situation and build a partnership with Sam Billings. Four years on from a pair of frenetic innings in his first two T20Is, he looked a different player.
Importantly, given England’s logjam of top-three options, it also demonstrated an ability to bat in the middle order. Twenty-five of Livingstone’s last 26 innings in domestic T20 cricket for Lancashire and Perth Scorchers have come as an opener, with Jos Buttler even moving down to No. 4 in order to accommodate him at the top in this year’s T20 Blast, but there is little chance of him batting there in an England shirt.
While he will have limited opportunity to do so before the start of the World Cup, Livingstone should consider shuffling down the order for one of his clubs if he can – potentially for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred – in order to gain more experience in the role, though batting in the middle order for Peshawar Zalmi and Cape Town Blitz two winters ago meant he had something to lean back on.
“I batted at No. 4 and 5 in the PSL and in the South African T20 [MSL],” he said. “I guess that’s the reason I go away and play in these competitions: trying to get experience of batting in different roles, which has obviously helped me coming into an England side, batting in a position I’m not really used to.”
But it is with the ball that Livingstone is particularly multi-talented, as he has demonstrated in this series. He generally bowls legbreaks to right-handers and offbreaks to left-handers, and while not a prodigious turner of the ball, he gets enough spin both ways to keep batters guessing and forcing them to watch him carefully out of the hand.
“It’s certainly advantageous isn’t it?” Buttler said after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s a fantastic skill to have, to be able to bowl offspin and legspin to international standard. We will potentially see that come into the game more and more. He’s an exciting package, a great guy to have in your squad and your XI.”
Livingstone is not the finished article with the ball. Two of the three most expensive overs of his T20 career have come at crunch moments, confirming Lancashire’s exits in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the last two Blast seasons when Ravi Bopara and Dan Christian took him down, but he insisted that those experiences have been beneficial in the long run.
“[My bowling] has always been well-regarded at Lancashire,” he said. “I’ve obviously had a couple of tough moments with it over the last couple of years, but they are the moments that have made me a better bowler. It’s something I’ve worked hard on for this sort of opportunity, to push my way into a team as someone that can offer something in all three facets of the game.”
As an excellent outfielder too, Livingstone’s case for inclusion in the World Cup squad is strong: even if he is unlikely to start once Ben Stokes returns from injury, the fact he offers some overs as a second – or even third – spinner, can cover a number of batting roles and is a good option to come on as a substitute fielder mean that he has quickly become England’s Mr Versatile.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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