1ST ODI England (181/2) beat New Zealand (178 all out) by 8 wickets with 16.2 overs remaining
2ND ODI England (194/3) beat New Zealand (192 all out) by 7 wickets with 12.2 overs remaining
When 86,000 packed the MCG in March for the T20 World Cup Final, we thought we were past every series being a referendum on The State of The Women's Game. But with boards de-prioritising women's cricket throughout the pandemic, England, the 50-over world champions and a well-funded team with a now professional domestic set-up, have just played their first ODIs for nearly 15 months.
Though Lisa Keightley became head coach in October 2019, the just-concluded first two ODIs away to New Zealand were her first in charge, and they could hardly have gone better. England's bowlers twice blew through the hosts to leave Tammy Beaumont and the top order to make simple chases look even simpler, which means England have the series sealed with one to play.
On the idyllic grass banks of Christchurch's Hagley Oval and Dunedin's University Oval, fans revelled in having games to watch and heroes to cheer. But only Brooke Halliday, called up for her international debut after a good List A season with bat and ball for Northern Districts, has stood out for New Zealand with her 50 and 60 from No 7.
Opener Hayley Jensen did provide some resistance in the first ODI, stroking 53 off 58 but New Zealand's top order collapsed around her, with Tash Farrant, who earned her recall after more than seven years out of the ODI reckoning through strong performances in the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy, proving an excellent new ball partner to Katherine Brunt.
When Jensen chopped on to leg-spinner Sarah Glenn, and Amelia Kerr chipped Freya Davies to Sophie Ecclestone at mid-off, Halliday found herself coming out to bat on debut with her side 104 for five off 27 overs. After taking another catch at mid-on to dismiss keeper Katey Martin off England captain Heather Knight, Ecclestone dismissed Frances Mackay and Hannah Rowe in consecutive balls to claim her 100th and 101st international wickets (for a remarkable all-format average of 19.41) in a typically superb spell of two for 36.
The left-arm spinner was the only England bowler required to complete her 10 overs, with Halliday's sparkling front-foot strokeplay the only point of light before she was desperately run out trying to keep debutant no.11 Fran Jonas, just 16 years old, off strike in the 46th over.
Danni Wyatt missed out, driving Jensen to Amy Satterthwaite at cover. But Beaumont was rarely troubled in her serene progress to a 17th ODI score of 50+ before being caught behind off Lea Tahuhu. The attack leader (who by way of biographical interest is married to Satterthwaite – the couple have a daughter named Grace) added to New Zealand's worries when she sustained a hamstring injury that has ruled her out of the rest of the series.
Knight and Sciver knocked off the remaining 45 runs at better than a run a ball to inflict a 10th straight ODI defeat on the White Ferns.
Two days later, 430 miles down the South Island's State Highway 1 in Dunedin, 10 became 11. This time the new-ball damage was done by Brunt and Sciver, perhaps taking out some of their frustration at having their wedding delayed by the pandemic, who combined bounce and movement to leave New Zealand reeling at 28 for four after 10 overs.
That became 53 for four when Kate Cross, in for Davies in the only change England have made all series, had Satterthwaite caught behind trying to steer past slip.
With Beaumont taking a good catch at deep square leg to prise out the obdurate Martin off Glenn and Maddy Green run out, Halliday once more found herself running out of partners. She eventually nicked the returning Sciver to Amy Jones, who, if not as stunning as Sarah Taylor, showed again she is a very good wicketkeeper up to the stumps even against seam.
Only a sprightly ninth-wicket stand of 53 between Rowe and Jess Kerr held England up, and while Wyatt again fell early and Knight was run out for eight, Beaumont again anchored the chase with a near chanceless knock.
Her 72* was slower than her 71 in the first ODI, but with Sciver and Jones both going at over a run a ball, victory was again a formality.
However, there are long-term concerns about the back-up to England's top five.
As CricketHer pointed out after the 2nd ODI, with Jones for Taylor being the only significant change to the top order since that 2017 World Cup win, there is a danger of a wholesale generational change being forced upon England if the transition isn't managed right.
But for now, England look well set to challenge revenge-minded Australia and developing India come their defence of the title won so memorably at Lord's, while New Zealand, who will host that 2022 World Cup, have a lot of questions to answer.
Jingle by Jeff Perkins