A stunning return to form from Martin Guptill has powered New Zealand to a four-run victory over Australia and helped the hosts to a 2-0 lead in the five-match T20I series.
Guptill smashed eight sixes and six fours on his way to a 50-ball 97 to power New Zealand to a total of 219/7.
His knock was the backbone of New Zealand’s innings but he was far from the lone contributor, with captain Kane Williamson scoring a half-century and James Neesham providing serious impetus to the end of the innings.
In reply Australia made 215/8, with a record-breaking seventh wicket-stand between Marcus Stoinis (78) and Daniel Sams (41) keeping them in the chase right until the penultimate ball.
Coming into the match with a highest score of 21 across his past four T20Is, Guptill looked a man on a mission from the get-go, helping himself to a boundary off the first delivery of the innings after Australia won the toss.
By the end of the third over he had scored 17 of New Zealand’s 20 runs, including a vintage drive over long-off for six off the bowling of Jhye Richardson.
Off his first delivery of the match, Kane Richardson had Tim Seifert caught at cover for three to start the fourth over, bringing Williamson out to the middle.
Back in his groove, Guptill belted an inside-out drive over long-off for six in the sixth over from Ashton Agar and backed it up with a laced drive through the covers two balls later. He upped the ante in the very next over, hammering Adam Zampa for two huge sixes back over the bowler’s head as he raced to his half-century off 27 balls.
He dealt out similar punishment to Stoinis in the 11th over, picking up two more sixes and by the end of the 12th over he had made 87 off 41, picking up two sixes – one a top edge over the keeper – and a four in a single K.Richardson over.
A slog sweep off J.Richardson for six in the next over took Guptill into the 90s and when he muscled a Sams delivery down the ground he seemed set to bring up his third T20I century with a maximum. Alas, it was not to be as the shot was caught superbly by Stoinis on the ropes.
It ended a 131-run stand for New Zealand’s second wicket. While Williamson played the foil to the explosive Guptill, he scored at a brisk rate himself. The Kiwi skipper scored 53 runs off 35 balls before chopping on against Zampa.
Guptill’s dismissal did little to slow down New Zealand, with Neesham starting his innings with three consecutive sixes. He went on to blast an unbeaten 45 off 16, hitting six sixes and one four to take New Zealand past 200.
K.Richardson was Australia’s most dangerous bowler, taking 3/43 from his full allotment, while J.Richardson was their most economic, finishing with figures of 1/39.
A quickfire 24 off 15 from Matthew Wade provided Australia with an encouraging start, but his innings was cut short in the fourth over as he fell to Tim Southee.
Captain Aaron Finch perished to Ish Sodhi in the eighth over for 12 and at the start of the 11th things got worse for the Australians as Glenn Maxwell was removed by Mitchell Santner for three. But while wickets tumbled at the other end, Josh Philippe looked at ease and on course for a half-century.
The youngster looked set to take Australia deep into the chase, only to fall to Santner for 45 in the 13th over. His dismissal was the first of three for Santner in the over, with the finger-spinner knocking over Agar (0) and Mitchell Marsh (0) with consecutive deliveries and going on to finish with figures of 4/31 from his four overs.
The Australians rallied from there and were in the chase up until the final over thanks to Stoinis and Sams. The pair came together at 113/6 at the end of the 13th over and added 92 runs in six overs to take Australia into the 20th needing 15 runs to win.
Step up, Neesham.
The all-rounder had Sams caught in the deep with his first ball of the over, and the game, to deal the Australians a serious blow. Sams departed for 41 off 15, with four sixes and two fours in his brilliant cameo, and his name in the record books. The 92 runs they added are the most ever by a seventh wicket pair in a men’s T20I.
A six off the fourth ball of the over from Stoinis put the match back in the balance, leaving Australia needing nine runs off the final two balls with a well-set batter on strike.
Unfortunately for the tourists, Stoinis fell on the very next ball, caught in the deep for 78 off just 37 balls.
A boundary from J.Richardson off the final ball of the match cut New Zealand’s winning margin down to four runs and proved a fitting end to a boundary-laden encounter.