England have become the first side to qualify for the Champions Trophy semi-finals, beating New Zealand by 87 runs in Cardiff. Joe Root top scored for the second game in a row with 64 from 65 balls as the hosts set the Kiwis 311 to win in what was expected to be a rain-hit match in south Wales.
Despite Jake Ball bowling Luke Ronchi in the first over, the 50-over World Cup runners-up recovered with help from captain Kane Williamson, who went to claim his 30th one-day half-century and fifth in as many matches, ably assisted by Ross Taylor. The pair put on 95 for the third wicket but a counter-attack from Eoin Morgan's men helped confirm their place in the knock-out phase.
Mark Wood dismissed the dangerous Williamson on 87 with a ball that exploded off the pitch and was duly edged to Jos Buttler, before Taylor (39) went three overs later when he picked out Root at midwicket off Ball. The double blow sparked a collapse with the final eight wickets falling for 65 runs.
While victory all but assures England top spot in Group A and a place in the first semi-final in Cardiff on 14 June, New Zealand are left to scrap with Bangladesh and Australia to join the pre-tournament favourites in the knock-out stage.
New Zealand, who could be without Williamson after a slow over-rate during the England innings, take on the Tigers on Friday back in Cardiff with both sides knowing only a win will be enough to give them any chance of progressing. The winner will then hope England can do them a favour when they take on Australia in an Ashes series precursor at Edgbaston 24 hours later.
Though wickets fell at regular intervals, England posed a score of over 300 for the 23rd time since the 2015 World Cup – during which they suffered an embarrassing eight-wicket defeat to New Zealand on their way to a pool stage exit. The main concern of their batting display centred again on Jason Roy, who made just 13 before being bowled around his legs by Adam Milne.
Hales and Root put on 81 for the second wicket, but after both men were softly dismissed Jos Buttler was responsible for turning around an England innings, which was spluttering at 230 for 6. But thanks to two fours and two sixes from the Lancashire wicketkeeper in an unbeaten knock of 61 – which included a mammoth ramp shot that ballooned out of the ground – England were able to set a solid total knowing that rain was very likely on the way.
The restart was temporarily delayed as a fourth match of the tournament was disrupted by rain and when Ronchi was castled by Ball four balls into the innings it looked like England would be the team to take advantage of the break in the weather. Fellow-opener Martin Guptill (27) followed as he edged Ben Stokes to Root at wide second slip.
But the Black Caps looked more than competitive when Williamson and Taylor came together and it took an outstanding delivery from Wood to end a potentially match-winning partnership, when a ball that ballooned up at the skipper was taken by Buttler. Taylor showed little resistance thereafter, triggering a collapse that allowed each of England's front-line bowlers to claim confidence boosting wickets ahead of tougher challenges to come.
Plunkett was the main beneficiary, dismissing James Neesham (18), Corey Anderson (10), Milne (10) and Tim Southee (2) to finish with figures of four for 55 — the perfect tonic after the tournament-ending injury to Chris Woakes.