Jos Buttler

CRUCIAL CAMEO: New Zealand’s James Neesham on the offensive—as England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler follows the play—during his 27-run, 11-ball blitz at the backend of the Black Caps’ innings, in yesterday’s first semi-final of the T20 World Cup, in Abu Dhabi.

Some stunning late hitting from Daryl Mitchell and James Neesham took New Zealand to a thrilling five-wicket win over England to take their place in the T20 World Cup final.

Set 167 to win, New Zealand looked in real trouble at 107-4 in the 16th over but a brilliant 11-ball blitz from Neesham brought 27 runs, including three sixes, and even when he fell to Adil Rashid, opener Daryl Mitchell (72 not out, 48 balls) took over with back-to-back maximums off Chris Woakes to put the Black Caps on the brink.

The right-hander then nailed a boundary off the last ball of the 19th over to seal the victory with an over to spare and end England’s bid to become the first side to hold both the 50-over and T20 World Cups.

After such a galling defeat to England in the 2019 World Cup final, New Zealand have gained a modicum of revenge and now have the opportunity to add the T20 crown to the ICC World Test Championship that they won earlier in the year.

Kane Williamson had no hesitation in choosing to chase after winning the toss, continuing a trend at the tournament, and with Tim Southee and Trent Boult charging in and finding some swing with the new ball, England’s openers made a cautious start.

Jos Buttler got things moving with back-to-back boundaries off Boult and Jonny Bairstow (13 from 17), promoted to the top of the order in Jason Roy’s absence, added four of his own back over Southee’s head, only to fall to Adam Milne’s first ball in the next over—Williamson with a good catch at mid-off.

The big breakthrough came at the start of the ninth over when Ish Sodhi (1-32) got Buttler (29 from 24) lbw on the reverse sweep, England’s most dangerous and in-form batter gone before he could do any real damage.

Moeen Ali came out to join Dawid Malan, who had been dropped early by Devon Conway, and the two left-handers initially took a more restrained approach, keeping the score ticking over as they got to grips with the surface. Malan was the first to up the ante, hitting beautifully through and over extra cover four times to find the boundary to help bring up the fifty partnership.

The world No 2 T20I batter swatted Southee (1-24) over midwicket for the first six of the day to move into the 40s but was gone next ball, feathering through to Conway to bring Liam Livingstone to the crease. Initially it was Ali taking the attack to the Black Caps bowlers though, thumping the spin of Sodhi and then the pace of Milne (1-31) high over the legside for maximums before Livingstone launched the latter back over his head for another six.

England were getting the big finish they wanted and even when Livingstone fell two balls into the last over, Ali (51no from 37) lofted the ball over mid-off for a one-bounce four to bring up his half-century and a dropped catch from Glenn Phillips last ball allowed England two more—making it 99 runs in the last 10 overs.

New Zealand quickly found themselves up against it as big-hitting opener Martin Guptill (4) fell to Woakes in the first over before the England seamer dismissed Kiwi talisman Williamson (5)—the right-hander miscuing a ramp shot to Adil Rashid at short fine leg—as part of a wicket maiden in his second.

Mitchell and Conway helped to prevent a full-blown collapse and gradually rebuilt the innings but with England’s bowlers showing great discipline, scoring was tough and New Zealand battled to 58-2 at the halfway stage of the chase, needing 109 more in the second half.

Mark Wood’s first two overs had cost only 10 runs but New Zealand came out with renewed purpose after the drinks break and took 15 from the fast bowler’s third. Another productive over followed against Rashid but the run-rate was still in excess of 10 and New Zealand had to keep coming, leading to Conway (46 from 38) charging past one from Livingstone and being stumped by Buttler.

The impressive Livingstone (2-22) was kept going into his final over and the decision paid off as he had Phillips—the man with the most sixes in T20 cricket this year —caught at long-off to further ramp up the pressure on New Zealand.

England were mistaken if they thought that was game over though as Neesham brought the Black Caps right back into it with a remarkable 17th over in which Chris Jordan (0-31) bowled two wides, with two sixes—including one that Bairstow caught but could not quite get rid of before his knee hit the boundary cushion—and a total of 23 runs were scored.

That gave New Zealand all the momentum they needed as 57 required from 24 balls became 34 from 18 and then 20 from 13 as Neesham and Mitchell each cleared the ropes off Rashid (1-39). The England leg-spinner had Neesham caught from the last ball of the over to leave the game in the balance but Mitchell soon hammered it back New Zealand’s way with consecutive sixes over the legside off Woakes (2-36). A pair of singles followed before it was left to Mitchell to thump the winning boundary and send New Zealand into Sunday’s final.Summarised scores:

Summarised scores:

England 166-4 (20 overs) M Ali 51, D Malan 41, J Buttler 29; J Neesham 1-18, T Southee 1-24 vs New Zealand 167-5 (19 overs) D Mitchell 72 no, D Conway 46, J Neesham 27; L Livingston 2-22, C Woakes 2-32. —Result: New Zealand won by 5 wickets.

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