New Zealand managed to edge ever closer to a place in the final of the triangular Twenty20 International series with a 12-run victory over England in Wellington on Tuesday (13 February), but perhaps what was more pleasing for the home side was the way Kane Williamson, their captain, returned to form.
Heading into the match, Williamson had managed just 114 runs from his last nine outings in T20Is. There were also injury concerns surrounding the New Zealand captain, his back troubles prompting Henry Nicholls to be called up to the squad as stand-by. However, Williamson showed no signs of pain as he scored an aggressive 46-ball 72, putting on 82 runs with Martin Guptill (65). New Zealand posted 196/5 on a seemingly tricky pitch, and their bowlers then ensured England were restricted to 184/9.
New Zealand storm to a first win of the Tri-Series! England fall to their third defeat of the series, making 184/9 in pursuit of the Blackcaps' 196/5.#NZvENG scorecard ➡️ https://t.co/g1P0czyw9q pic.twitter.com/UqY0eB3AMe— ICC (@ICC) February 13, 2018
Williamson’s efforts earned him the Player of the Match award, and he could later reflect on a fine innings. “You always want more runs, you always want to contribute as much as you can to a team performance,” he said later when asked what the knock meant to him. “That’s the focus. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a number of occasions recently when I’ve wanted to contribute more and it wasn’t to be. But it was nice to spend some time in the middle today, to get our side to a good total, and that was the best part.”
Victory means New Zealand have control of their fate. If on Friday (16 February) they see off Australia, who have already qualified for the final, they will ensure another meeting with their neighbours for the trophy.
New Zealand were pushed hard by England though, particularly in the chase with Alex Hales scoring a 24-ball 47, putting on 65 with Dawid Malan (59). However, an excellent display from their bowlers, particularly in the death overs, meant England were piled under scoreboard pressure. Their batsmen looked to hit out but could mostly only hole out, and the home side strolled home quite comfortably.
“Obviously very important [victory] in the context of this series,” said Williamson. “It was in some ways a must-win for us to get slightly ahead of the third place team, which is a very strong England side. We needed to play very hard, play very good cricket, which we were fortunate enough to do today.
“It was important we assessed the wicket. We didn’t quite know how it would play, but it certainly played a lot better than it looked. The guys got us off to a very good start, and we were able to build partnerships. There were a number of partnerships that gave us that momentum. The two debutants [Mark Chapman and Tim Seifert] today were outstanding, coming in with cameos, showing their power, which allowed us to get above par score.
“[It was] tough fielding conditions, but I thought the guys stuck it out really well. The way they bowled in the death… Trent [Boult] was outstanding, and so was Tim [Southee]. England bowled pretty well at the death, so we knew there would be challenge and that we would need to step up to the mark. And we did today.”
Jos Buttler, once again standing in as captain with Eoin Morgan sidelined with a groin injury, was left to lament giving away a few extra runs. “We were just off with our skills. The wicket obviously played a lot better than everyone thought. It produced a really good game,” he said. “We probably didn’t quite bowl as well as we could have. Guptill and Williamson put us under a lot of pressure, we were trying to break that partnership. But then we actually dragged it back pretty well at the end there. Just 10-15 runs too many.”
England now need Australia to do them a favour by beating New Zealand. Asked if he would put in a request to Australia, he laughed: “No! But that’s probably what we need now. We’ll just wait and see what happens.”