BRISTOL (England won toss): New Zealand (182) beat England (160) by 22 runs (five-match series level 1-1).

As England showed at Edgbaston last Wednesday and again in the West Country on Saturday, they rarely find it difficult to live down to their one-day ranking of seventh, ahead of only West Indies in the eight major countries who will contest the Champions’ Trophy in September. Previous numbers in the five previous tournaments vary from nine to 12.

England are in group B with South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand,and are no certainties to be one of the two to progess to the semi-finals of the shortest and tightest tournament yet held. Only 15 matches will be held at Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi (compared with 21 last time) in only two weeks.

England’s last two performances against New Zealand fuel a growing suspicion that they are a two-trick pony side - Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff - and without either or both, they look an ordinary team that takes one-and-a-half steps backwards every time they take two forwards. Edgbaston and Bristol provided two examples, with the home side on the wrong end of two matches against a team which is now missing four top players and is full of youngsters and inexperienced older players who still managed to out-scrap Paul Collingwood’s outfit.

The events at Edgbaston are well-chronicled and were an insult to the paying public. Collingwood’s half-hearted defence of his attack’s performance in bowling five overs in the final 24 minutes as the threat of rain materialised included the slippery outfield, but that did not prevent his side “warming down” with shuttle runs on the same wet grass 20 minutes after the close of play.
Do the players ever think of how that action would be viewed by the poor paying public?

Former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith, now a broadcasting pundit made this entirely valid point: “When the umpires signalled the close of play, one side ran off the field and one walked.”

England lost here for two reasons - poor top-order batting and the inability of James Anderson to bowl at anything like his best. How else are we to explain why Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and the medium-pace of Collingwood combined to bowl 30 overs for 71 on a helpful pitch while Anderson’s 10 went for 61?

He is at an age and stage of a chequered international career where someone at the top needs to make a decision, because he was the only reason why New Zealand recovered from 49 for five and 75 for six to total 182. That total was worth at least 50 more on a flat pitch but Bristol has not been that for the last few one-day internationals played there.

A good start was essential but the top order sank almost without trace. Luke Wright, the Sussex youngster, might have made an impressive-looking pinch-hitting 52 at Edgbaston but he has no chance on a lively pitch or, as he will face against South Africa, extra pace that will deny him his front-foot smear shots.

At least he was got out, as were Owais Shah and Collingwood and, more arguably, Warwickshire’s Tim Ambrose who played loosely at one that was too straight for his shot. The second, third and fourth wickets that started a terminal slump from 19 for one in the fifth over to 64 for six in the 19th were all shied away.

Ambrose’s Edgbaston colleague, Ian Bell ,knew that survival for the first 20 overs was his first priority, both to keep wickets in hand and to exploit a softer ball and the New Zealand support bowling. He did not have his share of the bowling in the 15 overs it took his side to reach 50 but only 12 runs from 35 balls faced out of 88 was not good enough.

He then hit three fours in one over to improve matters but offered the first sacrifice when he hit a catch to cover off a delivery which was so wide that it would have been so called. Pietersen then gave catching practice with a sloppy chip to mid-wicket and Ravi Bopara’s nightmare, in which he could have been out several times, ended with another slash to point.

Tim Southee dismissed Shah and Ambrose to complete a collapse of four wickets for two runs in 19 balls - three in eight to the youngster. Such a slump should never happen in international cricket, particularly from such an apparently-talented top six.

The ugliest-looking batsman in that top six is the captain but he rarely fails to show an appreciation of the match situation. Partner Graham Swann is normally an agressive hitter but he buckled down for 17 overs in which the seventh-wicket pair doubled the score from 64 to six to leave a target of 53 in 14 overs.

Swann then undid his good work with a Pietersen-type chip to mid-wicket and when the admirable Southee nailed Collingwood leg-before for a gutsy 34 off 80 balls, a target of 31 from seven overs proved too much for the tail. Daniel Vettori deserves more than the fates have allowed him on this tour and it was fitting that he took the penultimate wicket and caught the tenth to seal a win by 22 runs.

A fully-fit Flintoff is still a few weeks away but should be available for the one-day series against South Africa in August. He might make a considerable difference but the odds are against more than seven of this squad being in the side by then.