Jonny Bairstow’s stylish century inspired England to a 119-run victory over New Zealand at the Cricket World Cup as the host nation booked its place in the semifinals.
On a day where England’s World Cup future was under threat, Bairstow produced his second century in four days and his third consecutive ton against New Zealand in one day cricket, to set up a likely tie with India at Edgbaston next Thursday.
For England, which had to beat New Zealand to guarantee its place in the last four, victory brought welcome relief after a difficult few weeks in which it had proved consistently inconsistent.
But here, buoyed by a capacity crowd in the picturesque city of Durham, England proved too good for a New Zealand team that has rapidly fallen away in its past few games.
This defeat, New Zealand’s third on the bounce, is unlikely to prove fatal to its own hopes of making the last four. It will now most likely face Australia in Manchester on Tuesday in a repeat of the 2015 final barring a miraculous intervention from Pakistan, which still harbors qualification ambitions of its own.
A fine victory over India in its last group game underlined this team’s potential, while this win showed its ability to destroy an opponent’s bowling attack and then strangle the life out of it in the field.
That England’s fate at this World Cup should rest on beating New Zealand, the team that humiliated it at the World Cup four years ago, was rather apt.
Few English cricket fans will want to remember the 2015 defeat in Wellington in which England was beaten in a day/night game before the floodlights were even required.
Skittled out for just 123, New Zealand required just 74 balls to condemn England to an eight-wicket defeat with 49 runs coming off just two Steven Finn overs.
For England it was the nadir. For Eoin Morgan, it was one of the lowest moments of his career.
“It was a terrible day,” Morgan said ahead of the clash with New Zealand in Durham.
“One of those moments in my career that will stand out for ever in my life as a day where I was devastated, not only with the way we performed but also the way we carried ourselves.”
Fast forward to today and England is an entirely different proposition in one-day cricket.
Indeed, the chastening defeat by New Zealand sparked a revolution in how England approached the 50-over game with Morgan taking inspiration from the philosophy employed by the Black Caps and its captain, Brendan McCullum.
“The way his New Zealand team played, the way they did it their own way was important. It’s important for any team to get their own identity and stick with it,” said Morgan. “New Zealand proved a point that you can actually be really good humans and grow the game and play cricket in your own way and win, at the same time.”
Since that defeat, England’s fortunes have been transformed. The 2015 3-2 series win at home to New Zealand marked the start of a climb to number one in the world rankings and four years of positivity going into this year’s tournament.
Such positivity was justified, too. A 5-0 win over Australia last summer, and a 4-0 whitewash of Pakistan ahead of the World Cup gave yet more impetus to the thought that this could finally be England’s year.
But as ever with any England team, at any sporting tournament, progress is rarely simple.
A defeat by Pakistan, a team it had beaten four times in succession only weeks earlier, and consecutive losses against Sri Lanka and Australia, left its place in the last four in severe jeopardy.
Victory over India, which was unbeaten going into the contest and had temporarily replaced England at the top of the world rankings, was welcome, as was the nature of the performance.
England, having won the toss and choosing to bat, made a riotous start with Bairstow and Roy putting on a first wicket partnership of 123 — the same total the entire team combined managed when it last played New Zealand at the World Cup four years ago.
Bairstow’s century and Roy’s 60 from 61 balls set the tone for the host, though New Zealand managed to fight its way back with England losing its next three wickets for just 20 runs.
While at one stage England appeared to post a total in the region of 350, it ended up finishing on 305-8, a score that appeared enough to be confident of victory, but not certain.
Not that England should have been too concerned given its bright start with the ball.
Both New Zealand openers were dismissed with just 14 runs on the board and the visiting team was soon reduced to 69-4 with both skipper Kane Williamson and the dangerous Ross Taylor run out.
With those two batsmen went any hopes New Zealand had of winning the tie.
Tom Latham did offer some resistance, hitting 57 before feathering the ball through behind to Joss Butler in rather disappointing fashion to leave his side 164-7.
For New Zealand, the end was nigh. Mark Wood, bowling in excess of 145 km/h, claimed three wickets on his home ground to help dismiss New Zealand for just 186 and book England’s place in the last four of the competition for the first time since 1992.