ICC T20 World Cup: Mitch-Match for New Zealand

Mitchell’s unbeaten 72& Neesham’s explosive cameo help Black Caps beat England, in final
New Zealand batter Daryl Mitchell (centre) exults after scoring the winning-hit against England in Abu Dhabi | AFP
New Zealand batter Daryl Mitchell (centre) exults after scoring the winning-hit against England in Abu Dhabi | AFP

CHENNAI:  Nails were bitten. Bums were clenched. Memories of 2019 kept playing on loop. A Super Over — or two — was wished. In the end, New Zealand prevailed over England with six balls to spare. It wasn’t quite ‘the barest of all margins’ of the 2019 World Cup final but it was pretty close. 

Chasing 167 under the Abu Dh­abi lights, the Kiwis seemed gone for all money with 24 balls rema­i­ning with 57 needed. Then, Chris Jordan got the ball. The one we­akness in this England bowling line-up is death overs largesse. Jordan showed why. He went looking for the yorker but repeatedly kept missing it. James Neesham, the only death over specialist in this New Zealand squad, decided to flex his muscle. The first ball was pumped over mid wicket for six, bringing the equation down to 51 from 23. 

By the time Jordan was done, that was down to 34 from 18. Neesham’s 26 off 10 was the catalyst that swung the game in their favour. It was also fitting Daryl Mitchell, a middle-order batter who had seldom opened before being asked to give it a go at the World Cup, struck the winning runs. His 73 off 48 (he was 54 off 43 with two overs remaining) was the glue that held the innings after Chris Woakes’ classical Test match length had reduced the Kiwis to 2/13 after 2.4 overs.

There was even a Trent Boult style touching the boundary rope by Jonny Bairstow off Neesham to provoke memories of 2019. But NZ, who have now reached three of the last five ICC white ball finals, upended the form sheet. 

Coming into match, the form sheet favoured England because of how they interpret the format. T20 matches are usually won by sides who go batting heavy, especially against sides like New Zealand, who favour bowling. That’s why two numbers dominated the build-up: 8.33 and 5.73. The former was England’s runs per over in the powerplay, the best in the tournament. The latter was the Kiwis’ economy rate during the same phase, one of the best in the tournament. It was the perfect combination of fire and ice. 

When Williamson had no hesitation in inserting England in, this clash of ideology would be front and centre straightaway. And it was Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Adam Milne again who won the powerplay. England picked up only 40 runs (run rate of 6.67, well below their average of 8.33) in this phase — that they managed to score only four boundaries off the bat with zero sixes for the loss of  Bairstow — showed the level of the control Kiwis had. Both Southee and Boult found swing and used it expertly to tie both of them down. In all, there were 18 dots in this phase. 

When Ish Sodhi, like he has done throughout the tournament, capitalised on the work done before him by removing Jos Buttler, the Kiwis may have been forgiven for giving themselves a pat on the back. 2/53 after 8.1 overs was advantage Black Caps. But there is a reason why England tend to go batting heavy: a) it’s their strength and, according to them, b) it gives them the buffer to recover from potentially iffy starts.

A combination of Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali, a positive match-up against both Mitchell Santner and Sodhi, rescued the 2016 finalists with a 63-run partnership. England scored 99 and finish on 166.  It looked like it was enough before Mitchell and Neesham made them pay for the runs the England batters left during their innings. In the end, it was also a triumph for their ideology. The bowlers restricted England both in the powerplay and at the death which gave their batters a window of opportunity to exploit England’s death bowling issues.

Brief scores: England 166/4 in 20 ovs (Malan 41, Ali 51 n.o) lost to NZ 167/5 in 19ovs (Mitchell 72 n.o. Conway 46).

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The New Indian Express