THERE is always drama when international cricket rolls into Cardiff and this proved no different.
It was worth the long wait for the Welsh cricket crowd as they watched England qualify for the Champions Trophy semi-final by defeating New Zealand.
Alastair Cook’s men shrugged off pre-match talk of ball-tampering and a five-hour delay in the Welsh capital as they outclassed the Black Caps in their final pool match.
In a match reduced to 24 overs because of rain, Captain Cook top-scored with 64 from 47 balls in a total of 169 all out which proved sufficient despite a dramatic batting collapse.
England relinquished their advantage as they slipped from 141 for three in the 19th over, losing their last seven wickets for just 28 runs in five overs.
New Glamorgan T20 signing Nathan McCullum had a mixed afternoon at his new home as he took four catches from seven attempts.
McCullum dropped Cook on three occasions on 14, 38 and 45 before eventually catching the England captain from his own bowling and also taking three more efforts in the outfield.
New Zealand’s run chase never gained momentum after James Anderson removed both openers early on Despite a brilliant 67 from Kane Williamson, the Black Caps came up short as England won by 10 runs.
Whether England return to Cardiff on Thursday for the second semi-final against India remains to be seen with that fate depending on today’s final pool match between Sri Lanka and Australia at the Oval.
But England will just be thankful they are in the final four after yesterday’s drama. New Zealand had won the toss at 10am and chose to bowl before the long rain delay.
Following an inspection play started at 3.45pm with England resisting the temptation to change their top order with Cook and Ian Bell remaining.
Bell survived a lifeline on seven when he was dropped by former Glamorgan all-rounder James Franklin but his luck run out with a brilliant effort at short extra cover from New Zealand captain McCullum from Mitchell McClenaghan.
Jonathan Trott continued at number three despite the shortened format and criticism of his slow scoring Trott did not hang around long as he clipped a Mills delivery straight to Nathan McCullum at mid-wicket.
But McCullum’s luck changed as he dropped Cook at mid-wicket. Joe Root struck Daniel Vettori for six over mid-wicket before surviving a lbw shout which was successfully reviewed by England.
Cook dismissed Franklin for six before he was dropped by McCullum again at mid-wicket which was the hardest effort of his failures.
Root (38) was dismissed when he skied a McClenaghan ball to wicket-keeper Luke Ronchi, ending the third-wicket stand of 75 from 11 overs.
McCullum inexplicably competed his hat-trick of Cook catching errors when he spilled an easy attempt at backward point from Kane Williamson. Cook rubbed salt in his wounds when he brought up his 50 in 39 balls.
After Eoin Morgan had struck him for a huge 97m six into the River Taff, McCullum finally dismissed Cook from his own bowling.
Morgan was trapped lbw by Vettori which brought Ravi Bopara and Jos Buttler together for the final five overs.
But England lost three wickets in the two-over batting powerplay as Buttler was caught at long off by Nathan McCullum, Bopara was snaffled at square leg by Williamson to give McClenaghan his third wicket, while Tim Bresnan was run out from a Franklin direct hit.
Stuart Broad was out in Mills’ final over with Nathan McCullum taking his fourth catch before Tredwell was caught at third man with the next delivery.
This brought the innings to a shambolic end as England lost their final five wickets for 10 runs in only 12 balls.
Any New Zealand momentum was halted when Anderson ensured the Kiwis suffered a disastrous start to their response with two wickets in three balls as he dismissed the Black Cap openers Ronchi and dangerman Martin Guptill.
Bresnan trapped Ross Taylor lbw with the New Zealand batsman also calling on an unsuccessful review.
Bopara then accounted for captain McCullum and Franklin with Root and Morgan taking the respective catches to reduce New Zealand to 62 for five.
But Kane Williamson took control with debutante Corey Anderson as they shared a 73-run stand in 47 balls including 19 from one Bresnan over.
England finally made the breakthrough when Anderson took a catch at extra cover from Broad’s bowling.
There was further controversy when the umpire called to check the no-ball and Broad was just given the benefit of the doubt.
Corey Anderson also holed out to namesake Jimmy from Bresnan in the penultimate over to bring his 24-ball cameo of 30 to an end. And Anderson brought England home with a wicket with the final ball of the match.
England: A Cook (captain), I Bell, I Trott, J Root, E Morgan, R Bopara, J Buttler (wkt), T Bresnan, S Broad, J Anderson, J Tredwell
New Zealand: L Ronchi (Wkt), M Guptill, K Williamson, R Taylor, B McCullum (capt), J Franklin, N McCullum, D Vettori, K Mills, M McClenaghan, C Anderson.
Umpires: R Tucker (Aus) and B Oxenford (Aus)
Third umpire: S Davis (Aus)
Match referee: A Pycroft (Zim)
Join our man Gareth Griffiths to see if England can progress