Jos Buttler was relieved as England breathed fresh life back into their T20 World Cup campaign by overcoming New Zealand in another tense showdown between the teams.
Defeat against the Black Caps would likely have led to elimination at the Super 12s stage but Buttler marked his 100th T20 international with 73 off 47 balls, benefitting from being dropped twice.
Buttler, who in this knock overtook Eoin Morgan to become England’s leading run-scorer in the format, underpinned his side’s 179 for six before a disciplined bowling performance closed out a 20-run win.
England head to Sydney next and still must beat Sri Lanka on Saturday, but they are favourites to pip hosts and defending champions Australia to a semi-final spot owing to a superior net run-rate.
“It’s a big relief to be heading into that last game knowing we have a chance of progressing,” he said. “That would be a tough flight if we’d lost here, especially, so we go there really excited.
“I think the team is in a really good place after this. In a must-win game, to come out and play with freedom and express ourselves and show off our talent, I was really proud of the character we showed.
“We’ve played a lot of cricket over a short amount of time recently but certainly that felt like such a long break (they have not played since losing to Ireland last Wednesday).
“We were desperate to get back out there and show how good we are as a team. We’re really dangerous and have got match-winners. Having not quite played at our best we were desperate to show that here.”
Defeat to near neighbours Ireland followed by a washout against Australia, both at the MCG, meant England could ill-afford another slip-up but they have moved into the top-two of their group.
They are level on points with New Zealand and Australia going into the final round of group games but England’s Ashes rivals have a significantly inferior net run-rate.
That will be the determining factor if all three teams win their next match while also counting in England’s favour is they play a day after New Zealand-Ireland and Australia-Afghanistan.
“We’ve just got to wait and see what happens but there is a bit of a benefit playing that last game to know exactly what is required of us,” said Buttler.
“We’re going to expect a really tough match against Sri Lanka. They’re a good team and every game is tough here. To know exactly what we need to do to get through will obviously be beneficial.”
Alex Hales struck 52 off 40 balls in an 81-run opening stand for England, who rejigged their batting line-up with mixed results as Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone were catapulted up the order.
New Zealand needed 57 off the last 30 balls in Brisbane, eerily reminiscent of when they successfully chased down 57 off the last 24 deliveries in last year’s semi-final against England in Abu Dhabi.
Glenn Phillips, dropped on 15 by Moeen, had raced to a 25-ball fifty but Mark Wood put the brakes on the Kiwis by conceding just three from the 16th over before Chris Woakes and Sam Curran took charge.
“My own captaincy journey is still pretty young and as that evolves over time I think I’ll get even more of a feel of exactly what I like,” added Buttler, who took charge of England’s white-ball sides last summer.
“As a captain you want to try and lead by example. To come through that game as captain and score some runs for the team and then a couple of times you make a decision and it comes off straight away, it’s always nice when that happens.”
Curran snared the all-important wicket of Phillips for 62 off 36 balls and finished with two for 26, especially impressive given he bowled the 18th and 20th overs.
“He’s just a really good character,” Buttler added. “I think he’s fantastic. I love his mindset towards the game as well. He always wants bowl the tough overs. He wants the ball in his hand.”