Eoin Morgan had to summon up all his famed sang-froid after England threw away victory in the third Twenty20 international.
Needing a straightforward 44 off 34 balls with eight wickets in hand to take a 2-1 lead, they blew five for 10 in 19 and lost by 14 runs. If Nelson lived up to its reputation as New Zealand‘s sunniest city, this was the kind of surrender that can leave a tour under a dark cloud.
Morgan’s philosophy here has been that of the wise old shepherd, guiding his young flock across pastures new in the expectation of stumbles along the way. But this was something else.
Eoin Morgan (right) hits a six during the third T20 but New Zealand came out on top in Nelson
The hosts now lead the series 2-1 after sealing a 14-run victory over Morgan’s men on Tuesday
‘From that position you’d expect us to win, and certainly we did,’ said Morgan. ‘We were in control pretty much up to that point. The guys that came in didn’t do the simple things right. We didn’t establish partnerships, we didn’t hit with the wind.
‘But throughout this series, that can be expected with the inexperience of the side. One of the objectives is to know more about the guys who come in. We do have to get better and calmer in those situations.’
Yet that didn’t quite tell the story, because it was England’s three most seasoned batsmen who missed the opportunity to knock off a target of 181.
Dawid Malan had moved impressively through the gears during a 29-ball half-century – his fifth in eight Twenty20 innings for England – only to launch a full toss from leg-spinner Ish Sodhi straight to deep midwicket.
Sam Billings is run out as England fail to take advantage of their commanding position
New Zealand’s Lockie Ferguson celebrates after taking an England wicket at Saxton Field
Then Morgan, having already slog-swept two sixes in the over from slow left-armer Mitchell Santner, perished trying to clear the ropes a third time.
Perhaps the crucial moment came when James Vince picked out mid-off for 49, after threatening to impose himself as he had done during the series opener in Christchurch.
In between, Sam Billings was run out following a horrible miscommunication with Vince, after which the innings unravelled at an alarming rate. If England lose again in Napier on Friday, the series will be gone.
Morgan, though, will not be swayed from his basic premise, which is that the youngsters are here to learn. All six who arrived in New Zealand without a T20 appearance between them played at Nelson’s spectacular Saxton Oval, and the entire team boasted a grand total of 142 T20 caps – of which Morgan had 83 and Billings 23. That was exactly 1,000 fewer than the 50-over side had at the start of the World Cup final at Lord’s in July.
Morgan admitted afterwards that England should have sealed victory to go 2-1 up in the series
James Vince appeared to be heading towards a big score before being caught for 49
But it was not all doom and gloom. Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson bowled Tim Seifert between his legs with his fifth ball in international cricket, and was unfortunate when the wind changed direction, persuading Morgan to withdraw him from the attack after two tidy overs.
The Currans, Sam and Tom, were probing once more with the new ball, while Worcetershire’s Pat Brown showed signs of improvement, collecting the important wicket of Martin Guptill after New Zealand had got off to a flyer.
For Saqib Mahmood, it was a difficult day: four overs for 49, a battering at the hands of Colin de Grandhomme, and a sense that he is yet to rattle the speedgun as his advocates had promised.
Saqib Mahmood endured a tough day despite taking the wicket of New Zealand’s Ross Taylor
England’s other debutant, Somerset opener Tom Banton, briefly looked the business, easing his second ball through the covers and launching his sixth, off Lockie Ferguson, over the ropes at midwicket. Even his demise, bowled for a 10-ball 18 trying to ramp Blair Tickner, felt bold.
But for all the talk of blooding youth, Morgan has a series to win, and international sport rarely proves indulgent.
‘An important part of learning is recognising exactly where you were and what you did wrong,’ he said. ‘You can’t be blindsided or be stubborn enough to not take in good information.’
His team have been warned.