England ensured that the one day series remained alive with an emphatic eight wicket win over New Zealand on Wednesday, meaning that Saturday’s game will decide the three match series between the two teams.
In truth, the visitors made their job far harder than it needed to be. For the second match in succession they allowed New Zealand to score heavily in the final overs, with only Steven Finn able to contain the Black Caps as captain Brendon McCullum and former skipper Ross Taylor ran amok, putting on over a hundred runs in fewer than ten overs.
In the first game such profligacy cost them the match and they only got away with it in the second because they did such a good job of containing their hosts in the early overs. Whilst they will be slow to make any changes to the attack for a deciding game, the position of Stuart Broad will again be under scrutiny after he took another battering.
England’s consolation – other than the win – is that their batting lineup is showing some form. Jonathan Trott played the anchor role to perfection, hitting only one boundary before the game was all but run, opting to instead run the New Zealand fielders ragged. Whilst there will, as with the first game, be criticism for his rate of scoring, it is clear that England’s strategy revolves around him batting for as long as possible comes in early (as on Sunday ) or after a big opening stand. You can get betting odds of 13/8 at Ladbrokes on a third consecutive fifty for him.
The brightest star in the southern hemisphere at the moment, though, is Joe Root, who added his third ODI fifty in only seven innings at a rate of over a run a ball. It was the innings of a man unburdened by cares or expectations and his form alone has ensured that England don't miss the rested Kevin Pietersen. He's 7/4 with Ladbrokes to bring up another fifty in this game.
There is a danger in placing your sports picks on such scores, though. If New Zealand bat first, there's always the risk that they won't score enough runs to guarantee anyone on the England side needing to make a big score. McCullum and Taylor have so far accounted for just over half New Zealand's runs in the past two games. The Black Caps badly need someone else to step up and back them up or you could easily find them skittled for under 150 in this game.
That said, New Zealand are unlikely to rush into making big changes, either. The series win over South Africa is fresh in their collective memory and you can get good odds on a decent one day batsman like Kane Williamson being their top scorer in this game (4/1 at Bet365).
Predicting how the game will go is made all the more difficult by the fact that this is the first ODI played in Auckland for over five years. England at 8/15 with Bet365 look to be the safe bet, but if they repeat the mistakes of the past two games and allow McCullum to dominate those later overs then 6/4 with William Hill on the hosts looks good value indeed.