England’s attempt to unite the white-ball belts ended with them on the canvas in Abu Dhabi thanks to a succession of vicious blows from Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell in a handful of late overs in which an evening of often awkward batting was blasted out of the memory.
After the 50-over World Cup in 2019 and the World Test Championship earlier this year New Zealand are in another final in another format, and here they deservedly avenged their recent run of high-profile defeats to England, most memorably at Lord’s two years ago.
Defeat of course will sting, and it will be little consolation to Eoin Morgan’s side that they contributed to a slow-burning thriller of a semi-final, a match that teetered compellingly on a knife-edge throughout. It was not until the 16th over of the second innings that either side seemed to grab the game, and at that point it was England. Liam Livingstone had bowled superbly and his final over cost just three and brought the wicket of Glenn Phillips, caught at long-off by Sam Billings – the newcomer to the team finally getting something to do.
New Zealand ripped the game right back out of their grasp again, and this time there was to be no comeback. Chris Jordan, England’s one genuine death-overs specialist, was marmalised by Neesham, just arrived at the crease, who smeared two sixes and a four, and with a couple of wides the over cost 23, England’s most expensive of the tournament.
Neesham soon fell, albeit after hitting a match-transforming 27 off 11, and from there Mitchell took up the cudgel, and having needed 57 off 24 balls New Zealand reached their target with an over to spare.
For all that England at one stage seemed to be homing in on victory, New Zealand dictated the majority of the match. Having won the toss their long bowling attack slowly coiled around England’s batters from the start, restricting their freedom and their scoring. Jonny Bairstow is one of the world’s great white-ball openers, used to filling the role for T20 franchises as well as England’s 50-over side, but his promotion to the top of the order resulted in an unconvincing innings, with two boundaries including one off the inside edge in his 17-ball 13, which ended with Kane Williamson’s excellent low catch, diving forward from mid-off.
This brought in the man who was probably Bairstow’s main competition for the opening spot, and Dawid Malan’s was a very Dawid Malan innings: loitering at around a run a ball for a while before accelerating, particularly strong on the cover drive. But when he truly tried to motor he crashed, heaving the first ball of Tim Southee’s final over of the night over midwicket for six, and edging through to Darren Conway when he tried to repeat the trick off the next. In between England had to come to terms with the shock of Jos Buttler doing only moderately well, running at just over a run a ball before missing a reverse sweep and getting caught lbw by Ish Sodhi, a decision he forlornly attempted to overturn on review, for 29 off 24.
Instead Moeen Ali provided the backbone of the innings, scoring his third T20 half-century, and cementing his status among the key players in a team that ignored him for the best part of two years before welcoming him back in 2020. Perhaps he timed the ball inconsistently, but he was not alone in that and there were also three fours and two fine sixes, one landing in the middle of the picket-fence smallholdings covering the grass banks on either side of the wicket, and one thing he certainly timed well was reaching his 50, which he did halfway through the final over, off his penultimate ball of the innings.
The feeling at the halfway stage was that England had been pedestrian for long periods, but that perhaps the pitch had assisted the bowlers and so long as the dew held off – which it did – it might keep doing so. And there was one key statistic on their side: during the Super 12s the team batting first scored more than 160 on 11 occasions, and won 10 of them.
If there was one Kiwi batsman that England feared would take the game away from them it was Martin Guptill, who had demonstrated his ability to rip a game from the hands of his opponents most clearly with his 56-ball 93 against Scotland in Dubai during the Super 12s, and delivered a reminder in dismissing the first ball of the innings, delivered short and wide by Woakes, for four.
They were the only runs he would score, and two balls later a leading edge plopped straight to Moeen at mid-on. When Kane Williamson fell in Woakes’s next over, underplaying a ramp to allow Adil Rashid to run round from short fine leg and take the catch after seven dots in his 11 balls at the crease, England appeared in control.
New Zealand needed a partnership, and Devon Conway joined Daryl Mitchell to provide one. They, too, found timing difficult – after five overs together both were still going at just under a run a ball, scratching around for subsidence – but they offered few chances and looked ominously set and were starting to more regularly find the boundary when Liam Livingstone dismissed Conway in the 14th over, finding a way past the batter as he came down the track to leave Buttler with a simple stumping and Conway thumping his bat in frustration at an opportunity spurned. But as one door closed another opened; a few minutes later Neesham came to the crease, and soon New Zealand’s frustrations were over.