Dubai: England were in total control of the for 35.1 overs, but the New Zealand duo — Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell — turned the match on its head in 23 balls to give their team an improbable victory and take them into the final of the Twenty20 World Cup.
In Twenty20, the margin of error is too small and when Chris Jordan gave 23 runs in an over, England ran out of ideas. They conceded another 34 runs in the next two overs to pull defeat from the jaws of victory in the first semi-final at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
“It’s a game of momentum, we knew we needed one or two big overs,” said Mitchell, who was adjudged the Player of the Match for his unbeaten 72 after holding one end up despite losing wickets at the other.
It was an impressive counterattack by Neesham, followed by Mitchell when they had their backs to the wall. It was a classic case of a match is not over until the last ball is bowled.
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New Zealand were in deep trouble after losing the in-form opener Martin Guptill in the first over and skipper Kane Williamson’s run of bad form continued to haunt him. In a bit of desperation to increase the scoring, Williamson played a scoop shot only to be caught at short fine leg.
Undeterred by the double blow, Mitchell and Devon Conway (46) put on an 82-run partnership for the third wicket, that kept them in the running, but a mounting run rate was a cause for concern for the New Zealand batters.
In the pressure to increase the run-rate, Conway tied to step out to Liam Livingstone and got stumped. When Neesham walked in at the fall of Glenn Phillips, England even for a split second wouldn’t have thought that it would spell their doom.
The two teams have been involved in some of the closest of contests, including the 2019 50-over World Cup final, where England won on a countback of boundaries after the scores were level at the end of the Super Over. This victory would have helped New Zealand avenge that loss.
“We’ve played each other on a number of occasions, knew it would be a great game of cricket, and really chuffed with the heart that was shown throughout that performance. Outstanding from Mitchell at the top, an incredible knock and his character stood out today,” Williamson said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
“T20 cricket is a game of small margins. We had wickets in hand, which was really important. Neesham came out and hit the ball hard, and changed the momentum of the game. Ultimately that’s the deciding factor.”
England captain Morgan felt that his team did everything right. “Full credit to Kane and his team, they outplayed us today. I can’t fault anything that we’ve done tonight and hard to identify the key moments. They built up until they had to push the button, then came good. To have the ability to hit sixes from ball one like [Neesham], full credit to him.”
When Williamson elected to bowl on a good wicket and in a knockout contest, one thought he had given the match on a platter, especially after England raced to a formidable 166 for four in 20 overs. New Zealand did not get the right start with ace left-arm pacer Trent Boult not at his best, conceding plenty of runs in a bid to get an early breakthrough.
The Black Caps would have thanked their stars when the in-form Jos Buttler got out playing a needless reverse sweep. But their joy was shortlived as Moeen Ali showed his ominous form by playing beautiful drives with the balls racing to the boundary.
The left-hander remained unbeaten on 51, which set the platform for England to build their innings without trying hard. The last six overs yielded 66 runs when England batted. It could have been more as Neesham had to complete the final over, but England managed to get only 10 off him. However, that would not have mattered much with the striking abilities of Neesham and Mitchell, New Zealand could have still reached that target.
New Zealand have now proved their supremacy in all three formats of the game. They finished runners-up in the 50-over World Cup and then won the World Test Championship and now entered the final of the Twenty20 World Cup.
The Black Caps once again proved that you write them off at your own peril.