With 57 needed in the last four overs and the chase seemingly dead, New Zealand won with an over to spare
New Zealand 167 for 5 (Mitchell 72*, Conway 46, Neesham 27; Livingstone 2-22) beat England 166 for 4 (Malan 41, Moeen 51*; Southee 1-24) by 5 wickets
It was big-hitting madness. And it came from outta nowhere. England, much like they did five years ago on a sparkling night in Kolkata, had the game in their hands. And not one but two big-hitting allrounders took it away from them.
The equation was 57 off 24. More than two runs a ball. As much as conditions in this tournament have favoured the team batting second, here there was no dew. The single biggest thing that made run-scoring easy on these dry UAE pitches was nowhere to be found.
That’s why Mitchell – the biggest six-hitter in New Zealand’s T20 domestic circuit for the last five years – went through the first 10 overs of the chase with only two hits to the fence.
That’s why Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson were dismissed for single-digits.
Neesham has had enough of these games. His twitter timeline is a tribute to his wit – yes – but also to how badly that 2019 World Cup final broke him. He was out there in the Super Over. He hit Jofra Archer for a six. He ignited New Zealand’s hopes when they really shouldn’t have had any on that night only for them to fall so agonizingly short.
He went through the same routine here. Only this time he pulled it off. It was his six the start the 17th over that turned the tide. A monster blow over deep square leg off Chris Jordan was the centerpiece of New Zealand’s breathtaking resurrection, 23 runs coming off an eight-ball over as the fast bowler wilted under the incredible pressure of a World Cup semi-final.
Suddenly New Zealand only needed 34 off 18 balls. That was Mitchell’s cue to wind up. He set up deep in his crease. His front leg had the good sense to stay away. Chris Woakes missed his lengths. And three brutal hits in the 19th over – two over the ropes and one onto it – brought both sweet, unbelievable and everlasting victory.
England change it up
This semi-final had all the feels of two heavyweight boxers sizing each other up. But there was no real KO punch.
Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow were rather cautious at the top, their gameplan dictated in equal parts by the early swing on offer and the big occasion they found themselves in.
England went away from their typical T20 template – attack every ball – to a more nuanced one – respect every ball. For the first time since 2014, they had to wait till after the 15th over of the game to pick up their first six.
Malan and Moeen adapt
England’s approach protected them from early wickets, but that left a lot on the middle-order’s shoulders. A middle order that hasn’t had too much time in the middle at this tournament.
But Dawid Malan controlled things beautifully. If you’re in any doubt about that, pull up clips of his cover drives. With flowing hands and sublime timing, he guided England through the middle overs and was unlucky to miss out on a half-century.
Moeen Ali didn’t make that mistake. Playing the world’s most elegant leg-side slogs, his 51* off 37 provided the finishing kick that took a good total to a defendable one. With most of England’s batting tonight revolving around left-handed blades, New Zealand’s best spinner Mitchell Santner bowled only one of his four overs.
Guptill was caught off a flick. Williamson was caught off a scoop. Now those shots come off when there’s pace in the pitch. And there’s always pace in the pitch if there’s dew around. New Zealand expected it to come. But it stood them up instead.
And it would have all worked a treat if a big-hitting allrounder hadn’t decided to turn everything on its head. Again.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo