On a new pitch in Amstelveen, England made short work of the Netherlands, runs flowing as frequently as the airlines coming into land overhead as Jason Roy and Jos Buttler hurly burlied them along to an eight-wicket win with 119 balls to spare.
So quick was the hitting, so solid was the base from the off, that it came as a complete surprise when Phil Salt was bowled by one that dipped in and clipped the top of leg stump, one short of a very quick half-century. When Dawid Malan followed two balls later, for a duck, bowled round his legs attempting a kind of leg-side heave, Paul van Meekeren sprinted across the outfield as if he’d just nodded in a hat-trick in the World Cup final.
But that was as far as the jeopardy went. Buttler emerged at four, in the ever-adaptable England ODI batting order. A quick eye up of proceedings then off he went, sweep, drive, then greedier, six into the stands and fours in successive balls off Aryan Dutt. Roy meanwhile passed another fifty, in 47 balls, this series helping to put those “dark times,” he mentioned experiencing at the Pakistan Super League into the past.
Roy was dropped, a straightforward caught and bowled, by Fred Klaassen and then shimmied a four straight down the ground. But it was hot out there, and by the 29th over Buttler had had enough of being cooked. A Van Meekeren over was butchered: for two huge sixes, one square nearly clearing the stands, one very long, a four and then Buttler took a couple of steps to the leg-side to griddle pan a hooping no-ball that bounced twice over fine leg. But the stand-in captain was sensitive enough not to prevent his opener from getting his century and Roy reached his hundred off 86 balls before Buttler finished things off with a six.
The big news as fans arrived at the gorgeous VRA Cricket Ground was that Eoin Morgan, who had missed optional nets on Wednesday, was ruled out with a tightness of the groin, a recurrence of the injury he picked up with Middlesex earlier in the season. The ECB called his side-lining “precautionary” and he was replaced by Sam Curran; while David Payne, the 31-year-old Gloucestershire left-arm seamer, made his debut in place of Reece Topley. The Netherlands mixed things up too, with Klaassen and Van Meekeren replacing Shane Snater and Vivian Kingma.
Buttler won the toss and chose to field, to the disappointment of a crowd keen to see another world record under azalea blue skies, the summer trees in full leaf and leaning over the ground providing welcome shade. After English fans had shelled out €70 for the first match, there was a different audience. A working day, free tickets had been handed out to kids at the local cricket clubs, and they wandered by after school.
England’s performance in the field was a peculiar mix of sharp and wonky. After David Willey winkled out Vikramjit Singh cheaply again, the batter unable to pull full throttle on a pull, Payne’s first international wicket was postponed when Liam Livingstone lost a shot from Tom Cooper in direct sunlight and let the ball plop down harmlessly beside him. Adil Rashid then let a ball through his legs on the rope before Malan followed a steepler off the dangerous Dutch captain, Scott Edwards, but it spilled through his hands at fine leg off Brydon Carse.
There was a third half-century on the trot from Edwards, and fifties too from Max O’Dowd and Bas de Leede, but then the boundaries dried up. As desperation called the wickets fell – seven for 41, with Willey picking up four for 36, two wickets for Carse and a debut wicket at last for Payne, who got the dangerous Edwards with a slower ball, slotted straight to Roy who snaffled it and grinned, before Payne was mobbed by his teammates. Van Meekeren had a wild swing and the Netherlands were bowled out with four balls to spare.
It has been a very successful tour for England. Three wins, one world record, a maiden wicket for the debutant Payne. The players have enjoyed pottering around free of the constraints of the bubble, going out to have a coffee, exploring Amsterdam on the bikes. The only niggle is Morgan’s form and fitness, a story that isn’t going to go away.