As soon as Harry Brook was called to the cover, this one-day series became a play within a play, a spin-off with the glamor of the Colbys in their 1980s shoulder pad era. And in the first episode, a crushing eight-wicket loss to New Zealand, Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone earned top reviews.
Tom Latham won the toss and played, so Malan walked out with Brook after Jason Roy, another with a question mark floating above his head, suffered a back spasm before the game, and Jonny Bairstow rested with a pinch in the shoulder. After a cautious start against tight New Zealand bowling, Malan got to work, snatching two fours from Tim Southee’s third. Now he was center stage, here zipping past Matt Henry’s toes for four, there an effortless pull for four in front of the square – just a man pulling off his velvet bow tie after a dinner cruise on the Hudson River .
Livingstone also boasted a big stack of clean shots – dismantling a Kyle Jamieson over with three sixes: a slower ball cracked on the back square leg, a front foot slamming into the viewscreen , then a high shot, the roar of the crowd. loud enough to disturb those who jingle the ivories of the nearby Royal Welsh College of Music. He was pardoned after going high into the deep, when Lockie Ferguson’s front foot was shown to have overshot, reaching for around fifty 39s before shooting Southee into the mist and being caught long.
Brook, the man whose presence ruffled the feathers in the henhouse, had a quieter game. He had never opened before in 50 over cricket, whether for club or country, but although he went off the rails with a boundary, he never looked quite comfortable on a sticky ground.
Through the melodrama, it was Jos Buttler, resplendent in England’s new kit, with a royal blue towel hanging from the back of his royal blue trousers, who scored the best goal of his 33rd birthday. He and Ben Stokes, making his own comeback after his reverse retirement, had to rebuild after Rachin Ravindra turned the screw, with Joe Root looking rusty in his first ODI match since last July. The two wise old heads made fifty, Stokes reaching his own with a leg side kick on Ravindra forward, two balls later, sending the ball straight for cover, spinning on his heel and striding away.
Buttler and Livingstone fired a quick 77, before the excellent Southee came back and had them both taken in the same game – leaving just enough time for David Willey to shoot a quick 21, ending the set with a six on the ground .
The trees in Bute Park didn’t come close enough to shade the crowds seated in the unexpectedly choppy Welsh September heat, thanks to the Omega Block stuck over Europe. Safety warnings against the sun appeared on the big screen, although a prophetic haze filled the game as England entered the pitch after the break.
New Zealand’s rounds were a lesson in quiet control from Devon Conway, who finished with an elegant 111, and explosive strikes from Daryl Mitchell, who lit up the floodlit Sophia Gardens with huge sixes and skim drives in his ball of 91,118.
Conway and Will Young had weathered the storm of England’s first overs, surviving Chris Woakes and slamming into Reece Copley, whose length eluded him and whose first two overs lasted 25.
The breakthrough came when Buttler threw the ball to Adil Rashid, who struck with his first pitch. His tinkling approach belies a perfect leg break, driving past Young’s incited bat.
Gus Atkinson, presented with his ODI cap by Stuart Broad in broadcast mode and a white T-shirt, had to wait until the 16th to get his hands on the ball. Legs like a zealous sapling, he walked to his mark with his feet 10-to-two, stepping back at an easy, unexpected pace. Spells on either side of Twilight were fast but brought no reward.
Nicholls was tempted by a wide from Willey, into Buttler’s gloves for 26 – but England then hit the duo of Conway and Mitchell.
A few tough chances escaped England’s hands, but England had no response to the partnership that formed and drifted away. Rashid, forced off the pitch with cramp after three parsimonious overs, found life more difficult on his return, immediately hitting the ground for six by Mitchell – his eight overs ultimately costing him 70. Mitchell won the match with his seventh six and 26 balls. save. Lots of rust to get rid of before Sunday at the Ageas Bowl.