Australia embarrassed by New Zealand in opening T20 World Cup match

David Warner - AP
David Warner - AP

England’s head Test coach Brendon McCullum must have been doubly pleased after a near-perfect batting display by his native New Zealand launched the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup, and culminated in defeat for the hosts Australia by the embarrassing margin of 89 runs.

McCullum had unfinished business against Australia as a player. In the 50-over World Cup final of 2015 between Australia and New Zealand at Melbourne, his raw aggression in Mitchell Starc’s opening over ended in a three-ball duck, and his chance of a World Cup medal went with it.

Finn Allen went to the other extreme in giving New Zealand - and the serious stage of this World Cup - an unprecedented start: he hit Starc for 14, the most runs Australia have ever conceded in the opening over of a T20 international. Allen predicted Starc would pitch a full length to make the ball swing - and Starc did swing it, but the 23 year-old right-hander kept swinging it back over his head.

Allen, in his astonishing onslaught, hit 42 runs off only 16 balls, after New Zealand had been sent in on a surprisingly dry pitch after recent rains. Often going down the pitch, Allen was mainly responsible for hitting Josh Hazlewood for 15 off the second over, and Pat Cummins 17 off the third, rocketing his next IPL contract.

Glenn Maxwell falls while batting as New Zealand's Mitchell Santner watches - AP
Glenn Maxwell falls while batting as New Zealand's Mitchell Santner watches - AP

Australia’s three top Test bowlers were struck for 46 from their first three overs, mostly through over-pitching, instead of realising that back-of-a-length cutters were the best option. McCullum would have made his mental notes, and a text to England’s new Test opening batsman Ben Duckett - who has replaced Alex Lees for the series in Pakistan in December - may soon follow: Australia’s quicks are rattled when charged.

“We wanted to land the first punch and not let them settle early doors,” Allen said. “It was just committing to that and being a bit fearless.” This could serve as McCullum’s message ahead of the Ashes next summer.

Allen’s keynote address led to New Zealand reaching 200 for three, the second highest total Australia have conceded in T20 internationals, and to some frazzled brains. The hosts’ captain Aaron Finch increasingly radiates, not typical Aussie belligerence, but self-doubt; their fielding wobbled, with Adam Zampa missing a straightforward catch at short fine-leg; and New Zealand exploited this indecision by their running between wickets, allowing only 28 dot-balls out of 120.

Amid this Allen-induced chaos Devon Conway treated each poor ball on its merits and batted through New Zealand’s innings for an unbeaten 92 off 58 balls, making up for being injured out of the last T20 World Cup. Conway created partnerships with each batsman in turn, which belied the holding nature of the pitch and climaxed in Jimmy Neesham hitting the last ball - again, not a cutter - for six to bring up 200.

Allen’s father emigrated to New Zealand from England, and his son grew up watching both countries and especially Kevin Pietersen. Allen says he has tried to copy Pietersen’s intent, but he has also represented Yorkshire in white-ball cricket and there were echoes of Jonny Bairstow in his power-hitting.

Australia, in desperation, immediately tried big shots and lost big wickets to big catches, none more so than the flying leap by Glenn Phillips. Whereas New Zealand scored 65 for one in the six-over powerplay, Australia flailed to 37 for three as the visiting seamers bowled their share of cutters and Mitchell Santner teased with his left-arm spin.

Australia’s eleven was the same as for the last T20 World Cup final, which they won, except for Steve Smith being replaced by Tim David. It may need freshening up - starting with the allrounder Cam Green - if the hosts and holders are to qualify for the semi-finals.