England's Alastair Cook hits a six past New Zealand's Daniel Vettori (Reuters)
At 14:00 on Sunday, England’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions Trophy semi-finals depended on the old enemy Australia beating Sri Lanka at the Oval the following day.
Beating them, but not so well that their net run rate would surpass England’s and allow the Aussies to sneak into second place in Group A.
The rain had been falling solidly over Cardiff, and the game between England and New Zealand was inexorably inching to the cut-off point at 4.17pm where the match would be abandoned as a no result, and the points shared.
But the rain stopped, and England were to be granted a fighter’s punch. Win the 24-over-a side-game, and they would probably win the group. Lose and they would go out.
England came through, just, by 10 runs to book a last four place against, most likely, South Africa at the Oval on Wednesday.
The toss had taken place before the rain started, so the teams were set down and unchangeable. There could be no dropping of Alastair Cook, no sidelining of Jonathan Trott. The 50-over specialists had to adapt to the short form of the game, and get on with it.
And how Cook did. In his previous 69 ODI innings for England, the skipper had hit just six sixes. On Sunday, he cleared the ropes twice in superb, ultimately match-winning innings of 64 from just 47 balls.
It seems bizarre now to look back and note Cook was not selected for ODIs for over a year between March 2010 and June 2011 as he was deemed as not scoring at a quick enough rate.
This innings at Cardiff was a proper T20 innings of controlled hitting and run accumulation – Cook is very keen to play international T20 cricket as well as ODIs and Test matches, and this knock will have been noted by coach Ashley Giles.
The support he received was negligible, as England slumped from 141 for 3 in the 19th over and seven wickets fell for 28 in the final 24 balls.
England were in control in the New Zealand innings early after tight opening spells from Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
But they were fortunate to curtail a potentially match-winning innings from Kane Williamson in the 22nd over, when Anderson caught the ball on the boundary and the third umpire judged that Broad’s ball was legitimate, although it looked as though the bowler had overstepped the line.
But this was to be one of those days when the result mattered more than the performance. This was a day when someone, anyone had to step up, and they could think about the quality later.
Cook did, as he so often does for England, and he is now just two games away from leading his country to a 50-over ICC trophy for the first time in their history.
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- Alastair Cook