England squander place in T20 World Cup final after Mitchell and Neesham inspire New Zealand redemption

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A stunning display of hitting from Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell saw New Zealand end England’s hopes of becoming the first men’s team to hold both white-ball World Cups in a sensational semi-final in Abu Dhabi.

These sides have a history of wonderful limited-overs clashes in recent years. While this was not eye-catching, high-scoring or free-flowing (until Neesham and Mitchell got going), it was tense and tight, with neither team able to pull away. It was classic knockout cricket.

The rich tradition continued. England thought they had the game in the bag when, with four overs remaining, New Zealand needed 57 from 24 balls. But Neesham took 23 from Chris Jordan’s 17th over, then – despite Adil Rashid’s wicket – Mitchell came to the party with two sixes off Chris Woakes’ 19th. They got home by five wickets with a whole over to spare.

For Neesham, at the crease in the Super Over of 2019, this was beautifully redemptive. Having bowled well, he was at the crease for just 10 balls, carting 26 runs, including three sixes. Mitchell batted through the innings, for 72 not out from 47 balls, and hit the winning runs.

As a result of their onslaught, they have another shot at the white-ball title that has eluded them. And, for the record, Mitchell’s four that won it also took New Zealand past England’s boundary count.

England made one enforced change, bringing in Sam Billings for Jason Roy, who joined their long injury list. That saw Jonny Bairstow promoted to open, and after England were asked to bat first, he never quite got going, struggling to time the ball against some excellent new ball bowling from Tim Southee and Trent Boult. When Adam Milne emerged for the sixth over, he holed out to a fine catch at mid-off from Kane Williamson.

Bairstow’s slight stutter seemed to emblematic of England’s innings. They set New Zealand 167 to win, which felt neither here nor there on a pitch used earlier in the tournament. They were not quite their usual selves, failing to hit a six until the 16th over, and managing just four in total. But they had scrambled hard, with plenty of handy contributions rather than a definitive innings.

Moeen Ali made the chunkiest of those contributions, finishing 51 not out, while Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan chipped in too. Moeen and Malan’s partnership of 63 provided the bedrock of the innings, before the latter fell looking to up the rate. Liam Livingstone did that, but went at the first ball of the final over, which prevented them powering past 170. Billings, in the end, did not get a bat.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

In the absence of Roy, Buttler’s wicket felt especially important, and the promotion of Bairstow gave a slightly top-heavy feel. Buttler was set when he attempted a second audacious reverse-sweep, as was pinned in front by Ish Sodhi. For Williamson, a gamble had paid off, because Buttler had not made it to halfway.

Neither Malan nor Moeen flew out of the blocks. Malan, indeed, had his customary start of 10 from 10. But his inside-out cover-driving got him going and Moeen followed. Malan fell the ball after hitting the first six of the innings, then Moeen sent Sodhi for six an over later, and he and Livingstone hit one each off Milne.

New Zealand had fielded superbly – and Kane Williamson had employed some superb fields –but the final ball of the innings saw a catch Eoin Morgan at deep square-leg dropped, allowing England to scramble two.

When Woakes began New Zealand’s chase with wickets in his first two overs, England were well on top. That those wickets were Martin Guptill and Williamson heightened that feeling. Woakes bowled well, especially to Williamson, but both were severe batting misjudgements.

Morgan’s approach here was interesting. He front-loaded his bowling, using a pair of Jordan overs in the powerplay, two from Rashid by the eighth, and three from Mark Wood by the 11th.

Mitchell and Devon Conway weathered all this. Mitchell – not an opener until this tournament – especially was not fluent, but he stuck in, while Conway had some very classy moments, especially through cover. In the knowledge that they had some lightweight overs to get through, things looked nervy for England.

With the partnership worth 82 from 67 balls, Livingstone found the vital breakthrough, with Conway stumped. In his next over, Glenn Phillips was caught at long-off. Livingstone had shuffled through four overs for 20.

England were all over New Zealand, with 57 required from 24 balls. And then Neesham launched into Jordan, and Mitchell to Woakes. Jordan’s final over, the 20th, was not even required.

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