With its last pair at the crease and with steady rain falling over Eden Park, defending champion England held its nerve to beat New Zealand by one wicket on Sunday in a match between teams down to their last chance at the Women’s Cricket World Cup.

England came into the match with only one win from four matches in the eight-team round-robin; New Zealand had two wins from five matches. Neither could afford another loss in a virtual knock-out match between teams desperate to reach the semifinals.

From the start there was drama. New Zealand managed only 203 after being sent in on a premium batting wicket. Australia had scored 280-4 to beat India’s 277-7 on the same pitch a day earlier.

And England seemed heading for a comfortable win with vice-captain Nat Sciver 61 not out and leading its carefully measured run chase. Showers scudded across through most of the second half of England’s innings and it was most in command if the match was halted and result was decided under the Duckworth-Lewis system.

Sciver was out when England was 187-6 in the 44th over, seemingly cruising to victory with only 17 runs needed and four wickets in hand. But England’s run chase almost came unstuck in the dramatic final overs.

The rain gave new life to the pitch, the ball began to skid and batting became more precarious. England lost Sophie Ecclestone with 12 runs needed, Kate Cross with 10 runs required and Katherine Brunt in a desperate run out eight runs from victory.

That brought Anya Shrubsole to the wicket to join Charlie Dean who had been a hero when England bowled.

New Zealand had lost its captain Sophie Devine to an injury while batting and its leading bowler Lea Tahuhu to injury while bowling, leaving it effectively two bowlers short. Brooke Halliday, who hadn’t bowled previously at the World Cup, bowled the last two balls of Tahuhu’s fifth over when she was forced from the field with a hamstring injury.

She then claimed a vital wicket for New Zealand when she dismissed wicketkeeper Amy Jones with the first ball of her next over.

Halliday came under more pressure than she could have anticipated when stand-in captain Amy Satterthwaite was forced to call on her to bowl the 48th over.

Shrubstole struck her first ball through cover for four and took a single from the next ball to clinch England’s win with 16 balls remaining. Sciver, in the pavilion, joined a joyous celebration as England kept its title hopes alive with two matches remaining.

New Zealand, with only one match to go, has no chance of reaching the semifinals in only its second home World Cup.

“I didn’t realize how much it was raining until I got off the pitch,” Sciver said. “The rain changed the pitch a little bit and added a bit of pace in it. It really changed the match on us.”

England had been in a strong position when Sciver and captain Heather Knight put on 45 for the third wicket to leave England 98-3.

“It’s about partnerships, it’s about one of us seeing it through and taking us home. Unfortunately neither of us did that and left it up to the cool as ice Annie Shrubsole.”

Frankie Mackay played a vital role for New Zealand through the middle of the innings, taking 4-34 including the wickets of Knight and Dunkley. She removed Sophie Ecclestone and Kate Cross also as England’s run chase began to unravel near the end.

New Zealand had to face another narrow loss after a series of matches which ended in the last few overs.

“I’m so incredibly proud of the girls to take it where they did,” Devine said. “We knew that we were probably 40 or 50 runs short on that wicket.

“To take it where we did…I’m just so proud. We’re gutted but that’s cricket.”

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