Mumbai: When England and New Zealand play, they bring out the best in each other and make the cricketing world a witness to some of the most stunning games in the history of the sport – irrespective of the format. Their semi-final seemed the most mouth-watering match of this T20 World Cup till now. With the 50-over World Cup holders taking on the world champions of Test cricket, it was expected to be a close contest. But given the fact that these two sides had produced the greatest cliffhanger in cricket history in the finals of the one-day World Cup two years ago, the T20 semi-finals was a clash that cricket lovers were keenly anticipating.
And the two sides did not disappoint! They produced another pulsating, nail-biting thriller – a match that see-sawed all through. Till the end of the 16th over of the New Zealand innings, England seemed set to win. But fantastic hitting by James Neesham and Daryl Mitchell turned the whole match and underlined the glorious uncertainties of cricket in all formats of the game.
Put in to bat, England got off to a brisk start though with Jason Roy injured it was Bairstow who opened with Butler. But he looked rather scratchy and unsettled all through his stay and was predictably the first to go for just 13 off 17 balls. By the 9th over, as Butler also fell for a well-made 29, England was 53/2 and looked in need of some inspiration. That came in the form of the under-rated but highly effective Moeen Ali. In partnership with Dawid Malan, the two lefties laid a solid foundation for England. The pair put on 63 runs in barely 7 overs and helped England towards a healthy, competitive total.
Moeen got to his first 50 in the T20 World Cup and with Livingstone hitting a few hefty blows England reached 166 though at one stage they seemed set for a total of over 175. Kane Williamson had felt that dew would play a big part in the second innings when he decided to bowl first. Unfortunately for his team, it wasn’t to be so in the initial stages of their run chase. This meant that the wicket stayed slightly two-paced and hitting through the line wasn’t easy. Moreover, two early strikes by Chris Woakes made a par total seem much bigger. With Guptill and Williamson going cheaply, New Zealand was tottering at 13/2 in the 3rd over.
The scalp of Williamson especially was a huge morale booster for England and it was evident in the way they celebrated the fall of his wicket. He got out most uncharacteristically trying to play a scoop and top-edged to short fine leg. A skillful repair job by Devon Convay and Daryl Mitchell brought the Kiwis back into the game. They consolidated the innings with a partnership of 82 off 68 balls. However, as Livingstone bowled a fantastic 16th over and finished his spell with 2-22, the Kiwis needed 57 off the last four overs.
But it was James Neesham who turned the game upside down with a belligerent 27 in just 11 balls. Neesham had almost retired from the game after being gutted over losing the 2019 World Cup final. He didn’t! New Zealand must be very thankful for his decision as he changed the momentum of the semi-final single-handedly. After he got out, Daryl Mitchell, who played the perfect sheet-anchor till then, took command and finished the game with an over to spare.
While it wasn’t bad cricket from England that cost them the game, failing to capitalise on important moments was possibly the key to their downfall. They were a bit slow in the first ten overs, making only 67 – a complete contrast to their slam-bang playing style which has made them so successful in the shorter formats in recent years. They also sorely missed three of their big stars – Roy, Stokes and Archer – in this crunch game. But sometimes one has to appreciate the opposition for stealing the game away. New Zealand was simply magnificent in the way they managed the run chase. They are such an exceptional squad that for England, there’s no shame in losing to them though for Eon Morgan’s side the defeat is bound to be a huge disappointment for they seemed set for a win till just 4 overs from the end.
This terrific triumph is likely to be some compensation for New Zealand who was unluckily to lose the 50-over final two years ago. The Kiwis reaching the finals of all three formats underlines their rising stature in the cricketing world. Their spirit of playing the sport is already inspirational and now the big wins are coming their way too.
India would do well to learn from these two teams who have been doing extremely well in all formats consistently along with winning ICC titles. The fighting ability of the Kiwis and the aggressive style of play by England are important lessons that the Indians need to draw from them. With the next T20 World Cup slated for next year itself, India, with its new think-tank, must begin to lay down the groundwork right away if they wish to grab an ICC title that has eluded them for over 8 years.
As they savour their sweet revenge over England, New Zealand eagerly awaits their challenger in the finals which will be decided on Thursday evening as Australia take on Pakistan. They will be quietly confident though after their win. Such remarkable victories in knockout games make teams believe in themselves much more. If the Black Caps go on to win the final on Sunday, perhaps it will be time to change the slogan to, “good guys come first!”