Call it revenge, if you like. Perhaps even the more evocative “redemption” if that plays better. New Zealand have beaten England in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup in one of the most remarkable matches since the 2019 ODI World Cup Final at Lord’s. And they did it more comprehensively than the boundary count of 19 to 18 in Abu Dhabi suggests.
Then again, even the margin of victory, chasing down a target of 167 with five wickets and an over to spare, does not do justice to just how dramatic this encounter was. England had all but won it after 16 overs of the second innings. Moeen Ali’s 51 in 166 for four, Chris Woakes’s opening three-over burst of two for 16 and Liam Livingstone’s exceptional two for 22 from his four had them sitting comfortably with 57 needed from the last 24 balls.
The turning point was, really, one man. Jimmy Neesham, crestfallen at the end of 2019’s Super Over and still carrying that pain to this day, smashed 27 off 11, three sixes in his found boundaries, to turn this tie on its head. It proved the perfect chase to Daryl Mitchell’s knock. The opener was 46 from 40, seemingly unable to get it off the square. But he dug deep, sweated buckets and, taking cues from Neesham, ended unbeaten on 72 off 47.
Unfortunately, for every Neesham, there is a Jordan. The one who falls so the hero of the hour can rise, just as it was Ben Stokes in 2016 for Carlos Brathwaite’s heroics. Jordan’s third over was taken for 23: a torturously long eight-ball set exacerbating England’s worries and building tension in the field that fuelled New Zealand’s late burst.
To put this defeat as solely at Jordan’s door would be naive, if only because it takes credit away from a remarkable Blackcaps victory, who now must overcome the winner of Australia-Pakistan in Thursday’s semi-final to win their first T20 World Cup. It also detracts from the fact Moeen, having excelled with the ball in this tournament, did not bowl at all. The favourites, these self-appointed standard-setters of the shortest format have fallen at the first meaningful hurdle by perhaps trying to be too smart.
The all-important toss went New Zealand’s way, and Kane Williamson did not hesitate to put England in to bat first. Early swing from right-arm and left-arm quicks Tim Southee and Trent Boult brought about a cagey start, especially with Jonny Bairstow opening for the first time in this World Cup, with Sam Billings into the XI and positioned in the middle order. Only 13 came from the first three overs, but Jos Buttler’s back-to-back fours down the ground then through cover contributed to 16 taken off the fourth. And when Bairstow lifted Southee down the ground for his first four with the second ball of the fifth, there was a sense that he – and England – were about to get going.
Alas Bairstow (13), having faced just 30 balls coming into this knock, fell to first ball of the sixth over, driving his 17th delivery on the up low to Williamson at wide mid on. With that, New Zealand were able to emerge out of the Power Play with a respectable 40 for one against them.
As England’s A-list talent, Buttler was always to going to assume the role as lead man. A reverse sweep midway through the eighth over took four off Mitchell Santner, moving England to 50 for one and move past Pakistan’s Babar Azam as the tournament’s highest runscorer. He could only extend his lead to five, dismissed for 29 when attempting a similar shot off leg spinner Ish Sodhi and falling LBW.
In came Moeen to accompany Dawid Malan, the two left-handers ideal for targeting the spin threats on offer albeit with half a mind on not doing anything too rash. Their stand of 63 from 7.1 overs was dominated by the latter: Malan his usual watchful self out of the blocks before upping the rate, striking the first six of the innings when he hooked Southee over square leg at the start of the last five overs.
An attempted repeat saw him caught behind, as wicketkeeper Devon Conway completed the catch after dropping a chance Malan when he had just 10. In strutted six machine Livingstone ready get on up at the death.
He’d play wingman to Moeen, who decided to step up his rate. The pair combined to take 16th off the 18th over: Moeen clearing the fence at midwicket at the start then Livingstone putting him in the stands down the ground with Milne’s final delivery. Though the final overs were subdued, especially with Livingstone (17) caught down the ground off the second ball of the final over, 20 were still added. Moeen’s four to bring up 50 off 36 deliveries was the only strike of note as Neesham closed out the innings, though England would have been restricted to 164 had Glenn Phillips not slipped in the deep and dropped Morgan (4*), allowing two runs off the final ball.
Negligible, or so it seemed, thanks to England’s professional job with the ball, set in motion by Woakes. Martin Guptill, with 93 exactly a week ago against Scotland, mistimed the third delivery of the innings to Moeen skipping to his right from mid on. Then Williamson’s mistimed scoop – caught by Adil Rashid coming around at fine leg – gave Woakes another and a wicket-maiden in his second over.
Those losses meant even though New Zealand’s start mimicked England’s, Devon Conway, Mitchell and the others to come would have to manage the anxiety that would come with an increasing required rate.
With just 58 for two with 10 overs to go, that was a steep 10.9 required for the second half of the chase. Pressure was momentarily alleviated in the 11th when Mark Wood was taken for 15 runs, bowling England’s first front-foot no ball of the World Cup and then carved beautifully over backward point by Conway. Another release came when Mitchell’s straight six – almost clawed back into play by Jordan – ensured 12 was taken off Rashid in the 13th.
Conway’s attempt to keep that up in the following over was his undoing, skipping past a front-of-the-hand delivery from Livingstone, with Buttler completing the stumping. With a partnership done on 82, New Zealand now required blitzing cameos down the order. Livingstone snared one of them when Glenn Phillips, striker of the most T20 sixes in 2021 – Livingstone being second – found Billings down at long off.
Then there was Neesham. The 17th over went for 23: a six to start, wides sandwiching a four, then another six that at first viewing looked to have been caught by Bairstow and relayed to Livingstone. But Bairstow’s knee was on the sponge before the pass was made and Jordan’s misery was compounded.
That lit a fire under Mitchell, the pair exchanging sixes off Rashid, hammering what remained of English hope. For a moment, as Neesham clothed the final ball of the 18th to Morgan at cover, that ticked up. New Zealand still required 20 from the last two overs. Still, 10 an over, albeit now a different kind of 10 an over.
Only one was needed: Woakes returned and was heaved by Mitchell over long-on then midwicket. And the man of the moment fitting struck the winning runs, flicking a full toss around the corner and punching the air in delight.
For England, this is another devastating defeat from the jaws of victory in consecutive T20 World Cups. And though this was not the final, it will hurt just as much. Once again, they were undone by the ruthlessness of the format.
But New Zealand were worthy winners and have set their stall out ahead of Sunday’s final. After winning the World Test Championship this summer, they have the chance to end 2021 with a very plausible claim of being the best multi-format team in the world.
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