England beat New Zealand to reach the semi-finals
But England refused to be blown off course in their bid for Champions Trophy glory, hoisting sails and booking their place in the semi-finals at the earliest available opportunity.
In weather which made it difficult to play cricket let alone watch it with gusts up to 50mph whipping across the square in Cardiff, an 87-run victory over New Zealand was enough for England to progress.
Moreover, they now have the perfect prospect of a shot to nothing at Australia on Saturday at Edgbaston knowing that victory there would almost certainly knock Steve Smith’s side out of the tournament.
It was not a day for individuals to take stand centre stage more a day where the collective gathered together and huddled whether it was Eoin Morgan’s shrewd use of his bowlers or their realisation of the correct lengths to bowl, hammering it in short with cross seamers.
But there were still some highlights with a typically inventive knock from Jos Buttler, half centuries from Joe Root and Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett’s second four wicket haul of the tournament and a decent effort from the recalled Adil Rashid, who bowled with great control in difficult circumstances.
Ben Stokes scored 48 off 53 balls
New Zealand, for their part, were less than pleased with a pitch they felt offered significant uneven bounce as the match wore on. However that was an argument weakened significantly by the fact they won the toss and chose to insert England.
Any tournament is weakened when hosts go out early so the ICC should be delighted England have stomped into the last four at the earliest available opportunity, particularly when rain has ruined two of the five matches before yesterday and seen Duckworth Lewis decide another.
It was not good news for the Kiwis who were on the wrong side of one of those no results when well on top of Australia and now have to hope England win on Saturday (or if that match is washed out) hammer Bangladesh by a decent enough margin on Friday to go through on net run rate.
There were moments during the day when Morgan admitted he felt less than confident including at the halfway point after England posted 310 – a target he felt was 15 below par – or when Williamson and Ross Taylor were 158-2 and cruising.
But after throwing the ball to Mark Wood, the fast bowler got one to leap off the track and brush the glove of Williamson when he was 13 short of a second century.
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It was an opening that the rest of the bowlers rushed through, Jake Ball and Rashid bagging victims and Plunkett mopping up the tail.
New Zealand lost their last seven wickets for 55 runs.
As Morgan later admitted, England had finished their own innings with a slight sense of frustration, losing three in four balls as Tim Southee cleaned up the tail with three balls still in the locker.
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Eoin Morgan (Middlesex, captain)
And for all that 310 all out was nothing to be ashamed of, it was true that New Zealand had consistently managed to check momentum.
After Jason Roy had departed early, stretching selectors’ loyalty that little bit thinner (for all that he will not be dropped for Saturday) walking across his stumps and being bowled leg stump by Adam Milne, England kept getting partnerships set and promptly losing wickets.
Setbacks came not in clusters but equally spaced as England’s innings got going then braked as if in some ongoing motorway roadworks. Hales and Root shared an 81 stand for the second wicket and Root and Ben Stokes a half century stand. But the rest rather petered away after getting starts.
New Zealand have built a reputation on clever cricket and there was clear evidence they had thought out their strategy here.
Avoiding length balls they, too, had bowled short – both fast and slow – and restricted England’s ability to go for the straight boundaries and forcing them as much as they could to hit into the wind towards the Pavilion.
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It forced England to be inventive so it was no surprise that Buttler came to the fore counter punching, flat-batting brutal slugs and ramping his way to 61 not out.
As it happened England’s total proved good enough even though Morgan insisted that it was the bowlers who got the batters out of jail.
There have been plenty of times over the course of the last two years when it has been the other way around but the good thing for Morgan and England that all parts of the machine, with the possible exception of the opening partnership, are firing.
Whatever happens, England will be back here next Wednesday as group winners.