Ben Stokes may be an England player again but New Zealand quashed any hopes of a fairytale return, winning an absorbing first one-day international by three wickets. While the all-rounder was able to have a say with the ball, the headlines belong to Ross Taylor for a magnificent 113 and Mitchell Santner, whose blazing cameo of 45 from 27 balls saw the Black Caps home to their target of 285.
Victory looked beyond them after Chris Woakes and David Willey (drafted in after Mark Wood’s late ankle complaint) took out their top three for only 27 runs – the former accounting for the openers, Martin Guptill and Colin Munro – by midway through the 10th over.
But England allowed Taylor and the wicketkeeper Tom Latham to run roughshod with a 178-run partnership for the fourth wicket, reading every slower ball and cutter at will, leaning into shots with the sort of conviction that not many were able to match on a pitch that encouraged variation. Both reached career milestones, Taylor becoming the fastest Black Cap to 7,000 ODI runs while Latham ticked over 2,000. Taylor was able to add some short-term gratification too with an 18th ODI hundred, from 108 balls.
Latham might have thought his luck was in for his fifth having been dropped on 47 by Jos Buttler and then on 77 by Jonny Bairstow. Just as the pair threatened to see New Zealand home, Morgan did what no England captain has been able to do for five months – he turned to Ben Stokes.
Starting in place of Alex Hales, who may be hoping this is not a terminal ousting only five-days after signing a white-ball only contract with Nottinghamshire, Stokes managed only 12 out of England’s 284. But it was the all-rounder’s second spell with the ball that threatened to turn the match.
Having a built up a good head of speed – his first over, in the 12th, featured the three fastest balls of the match so far – Stokes forced Latham to pull to Joe Root at mid-on, before removing Colin de Grandhomme with a very full slower ball. Those dismissals sandwiched Henry Nicholls finding Jason Roy at backward point off Tom Curran.
With 41 needed, Taylor was stumped off Adil Rashid by Jos Buttler, who could have nabbed Tim Southee next ball had he taken the ball cleanly.
Santner’s twin heaves to midwicket at the start of the 48th over and nine runs off the 49th meant only nine was needed off the final six balls. An inside-edged to fine leg, a wide and Santer’s fourth six finished an absorbing contest.
Asked to bat first, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow continued up top but only lasted four overs as a pair, Bairstow edging Trent Boult behind. Roy grafted for 49 before losing his leg stump as Santner snuck one through bat and pad.
Joe Root, the designated driver of this ODI side, covering those encouraged to enjoy themselves, notched 71: a 27th ODI fifty off 53 balls, continuing his form from the ODI series against Australia in which he scored 226 runs at an average of 75.33. However, it ranks crudely as a ninth uncoverted half-century of his two winter tours. After surviving a chance on 69 when chipping a slower ball from Tim Southee just out of the grasp of Santner at cover, he was floored by a Munro knuckle-ball five balls later.
Buttler took over for the final dart but struggled to find his chutzpah throughout a stop-start 65-ball innings.
He took eight balls to get off the mark before smashing three successive sixes off the leg spinner Ish Sodhi, which formed part of a burst that took Buttler to his 15th ODI half-century from 41 balls. He should have been run out as well when forcing a single from 31 to 32.
Excellent death bowling by Southee and Boult (both dropping their paces to around 60mph) meant Buttler had 66 off 62 with seven balls left in the innings, before striking his next two balls for sixes, only to be run out by Southee, backing up to excess, with one ball to go. An lbw given off the last ball of the innings – overturned on review – meant England posted 284-8.
Any debate as to whether that lost ball could have made the difference was pushed off the agenda by Santner’s late assault.