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In purely game terms, England were left to defending 194 for seven, thanks to Eoin Morgan’s unbeaten 80 and 53 from Dawid Malan, but in reality New Zealand’s target was 20 runs less
England won a T20 international for the first time in nearly eight months but celebrations were muted as New Zealand advanced to the Tri Series final on net run rate.
Eoin Morgan made his best T20 score for two-and-a-half years, Dawid Malan became the first man to ever hit four half-centuries in his opening five international innings in the shortest format and the spin pair of Adil Rashid and Liam Dawson caused problems for the New Zealand top order but the tourists still came up short in Hamilton.
In purely game terms, England were left to defending 194 for seven, thanks to Morgan’s unbeaten 80 and 53 from Malan, but in reality New Zealand’s target was 20 runs less.
And in passing 174 in the 18th over, the home side had ensured progress to Wednesday’s final at Eden Park by virtue of their superior net run rate.
England went on to claim victory by two runs, but the quiet congratulations between the players at the end illustrated just how hollow it really was.
The tourists’ cause was not helped by an inexplicable perseverance with erratic line and length in the powerplay which gave the Blackcaps a welcome leg-up.
Eoin Morgan made 80 not out
Colin Munro’s 18-ball half-century had fielders’ hands on hips before five overs had been bowled and from there on in it was plain sailing for the home side, barring a handful of lean overs when Rashid dabbled with his full armoury.
England, without several of their premier players in this series, return to 50-over cricket next week. It must surely come as a relief.
Sent in on a soft-ish pitch in Hamilton, England’s task was simple - stack up the runs and make sure New Zealand toppled in pursuit.
Jason Roy made the tourists’ intentions clear by pulling the third ball of match, from Trent Boult, over the wide midwicket boundary for six but both he and Alex Hales were dismissed in near-identical fashion in the space of four deliveries.
Hales lobbed up a simple catch to Kane Williamson at mid-off from a Tim Southee off-cutter and Roy, like his opening partner afflicted by a lack of foot movement, skewed Trent Boult to the Blackcaps skipper.
Roy cast a disdainful glance to the playing surface as he turned for the pavilion but in truth little blame could be attached to the pitch.
England were again presented with a rebuilding task but Malan was again up to the task. The Middlesex captain continued his rich start to life in T20 internationals, taking 16 from Williamson’s only over, and helped an orange-shirted Kiwi in the crowd become $50,000 richer with a hack over long-on.
Ish Sodhi briefly seemed to have thrown the reins over England’s second charge, befuddling Malan with a series of flippers and wrong’uns in his opening over, but the visitors’ No. 3 was soon on top once again and, alongside Morgan, took the score past 100 in the 11th.
Ish Sodhi celebrates a wicket
The momentum shift threatened to see the tourists to a score approaching the ground-record of 202 but after Malan was removed by Colin de Grandhomme, caught by Mark Chapman in the deep the over having reached his fourth T20 international half-century in five innings, England momentarily stalled.
Jos Buttler took three steps down the wicket to the final ball of an excellent Sodhi spell and didn’t even bother to turn back after missing with a wild swipe and England went 24 deliveries without a boundary before Morgan went to his first IT20 50 in more than a year by slapping De Grandhomme over square leg’s head.
Morgan, emerging from his recent rut in explosive fashion, flat-batted Boult baseball-style for a pair of straight sixes in the 18th over, and watched on from the other end as both Liam Dawson and Chris Jordan hit their respective first balls over the rope.
England’s 194 for seven was a competitive total on a sluggish pitch but Munro quickly made inroads.
The Kiwi opener, aided by England’s radar malfunction, launched four sixes from the first 12 balls of the chase, the first three carbon copies of each other, flicked over backward square leg.
With two overs gone, New Zealand were 30 without loss. At the end of the powerplay, they had moved to 77.
Colin Munro reached 50 in 18 balls
England, drawn as if magnetically to Munro’s pads, were out of the contest quicker than you can say ‘legside half-volley’.
Seven of Munro’s first 18 deliveries went for six, half-a-dozen of which were served up on a ‘hit-me’ platter by England’s quicks. That Martin Guptill could plod along at a strike rate of 66 during the powerplay and not draw any attention said it all.
The introduction of spin brought Munro’s downfall, caught in the deep by David Willey from a top-edged sweep off Adil Rashid, and in a week where the Yorkshireman gave up red-ball cricket he showed once again just how good he is with the white nut.
Four overs of guile, drift and variation briefly dragged England back into the contest, while Liam Dawson clean bowled Kane Williamson and had impressive figures of 1-9 from his first three overs.
Once the Hampshire allrounder’s fourth went for 18, however, even the most optimistic England supporter would have accepted the inevitability of the situation.
Guptill, having weighed anchor for large parts of the innings, passed 50 and celebrated by heaving Malan for two sixes in an over. International Twenty20’s leading runscorer couldn’t see the job through to the end, bowled as he was swinging across the line to Malan, but he left New Zealand in a position where it was almost impossible not to qualify.
With Mark Chapman again impressing in the middle order, the Kiwis passed their mandatory qualification target with more than two overs to spare.
Twenty one from the final 12 balls turned out to be too much of an ask, however, as Tom Curran kept his nerve at the death to give England some vague consolation.
A win in the scorebook, then. The only trouble being that, on this rare occasion, what was in the book really didn’t matter.