Riding on outstanding half-centuries from Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson and cameos from Mark Chapman and Tim Seifert, the debutants, New Zealand scored big and defended well to run out 12-run victors in the fourth match of the triangular Twenty20 International series in Wellington on Tuesday (13 February).
On a pitch that Jos Buttler felt “unsure” about and Williamson said had a “few unknowns”, England understandably asked New Zealand to bat, but were carted around as the home side reached 196/5 with Guptill hitting 65 and Williamson 72. England’s reply was on course while Alex Hales held sway at the top of the order, but went off the rails to end on 184/9.
Despite Colin Munro having another below-par outing, New Zealand got off to a good start. That was courtesy Guptill, who got stuck into David Willey and Mark Wood upfront as 39 runs were scored for the opening wicket before Munro top-edged Wood to Sam Billings at long-leg to leave for a 13-ball 11.
If that left the game poised evenly, the next nine overs were all New Zealand. Guptill was solid but Williamson, coming in on the back of a poor run in the format in which he had just 114 runs from his last nine outings, was outstanding. He got a reprieve when Wood failed to run him out off his own bowling. Williamson was yet to get off the mark at that point, and the New Zealand captain responded with a smile and an array of stunning shots.
The Powerplay overs ended with New Zealand at 50/1 and after 16 deliveries went without much drama, Guptill slog-swept Adil Rashid for six to break the shackles, and both batsmen scored big in the new few deliveries. Guptill’s back-to-back sixes off Rashid – a slog sweep and a straight, muscular hit –helped New Zealand get to 120/1 before England fought back. First, Williamson got another life when Rashid dropped a toughie off his own bowling but, in the same over, the leg-spinner reduced New Zealand to 121/3.
Guptill miscued a paddle to Liam Plunkett at short fine-leg to depart for a 40-ball 65, in which he hit six fours and three sixes. Colin de Grandhomme went next ball, clubbing one to Chris Jordan at long-off where the fieldsman took a leaping catch with one hand.
That brought Chapman to the middle and he watched from the other end as Williamson smashed Wood for 20 runs in one over – the 16th of the innings – and got to his first T20I half-century since 8 January 2017. Chapman went for his shots too, even flicking Willey for a big one over the square-leg boundary.
The tide turned a bit when Jordan sent in a yorker-filled 18th over, conceding just three runs and getting Williamson out bowled off his pads as the batsman shuffled across. Williamson fell one short of his highest T20I score, walking back for 72, scored off 46 balls with four fours and four sixes.
Chapman wasn’t done yet. He smashed one over mid-wicket, was then dropped by Billings at deep mid-wicket, and was then caught at the same part of the ground by the same fielder, all in the same Wood over.
Even that wasn’t the end of the run-scoring, as Seifert walked in, got all the strike in his six-ball stand with Ross Taylor, and added 14 more with two mighty hits off Jordan, one sliced over point for six and one hit over long-off for six more.
In reply, England got off to a great start despite losing Jason Roy cheaply again, caught by Trent Boult off Tim Southee at mid-on for eight, his third single-digit score in the series. But Hales, in the main, and Dawid Malan snatched back the initiative after that, taking the total past 50 in just the fifth over in a blaze of fours and sixes.
The big hitting continued as Hales smashed six fours and three sixes – the first of them, off Boult, almost disappearing into the night sky because of the height it got. But in going for one more biggie, Hales toe-ended a pull off Ish Sodhi to de Grandhomme at the mid-wicket boundary to walk back for a 24-ball 47.
That made it 79/2 in the ninth over, and New Zealand were on top when Williamson’s brilliant, diving direct hit from mid-off sent James Vince back and Sodhi got his second in the form of Jos Buttler, caught by Southee at long-off, to leave the scoreboard reading 109/4 at the end of the 12th over.
England’s all-out attack continued unabated, but even as Malan kept going, Billings swept Mitchell Santner to Sodhi at short fine-leg. Sodhi could have had his third and possibly put the match beyond England had Santner not fluffed a straightforward chance at long-on to let Willey off. Malan had reached his half-century by then, his second of the tournament, but couldn’t go on for much longer as he sent Santner to Boult at long-on to walk back for a 40-ball 59, with six fours and two sixes.
That left the match fascinatingly poised, but England had lost six wickets, and when Boult hit timber two balls in a row, both perfect yorkers to Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett, he made sure there was too much to do for the last few batsmen.
The win gave New Zealand their first points of the series, in their second match, while England slipped to their third defeat in a row. The third team in the mix, Australia, are already in the final. The next match will be played between New Zealand and Australia on Friday.