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Williamson, who hadn’t passed 28 in IT20s in more than a year going into the game, should have been run out after just two balls. It was a moment England would come to regret
England lost to New Zealand by 12 runs
England’s T20 slump got a little deeper in Wellington as New Zealand’s big hitters finally found their groove in the shortest format of the game.
Both Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill had been somewhat out of sorts in the Twenty20 international arena in recent months but their half-centuries gave the Blackcaps a formidable total of 196 for five which was ultimately too much for England’s top-heavy batting line-up.
For long periods of their run chase, the tourists kept themselves in touch with the required rate and with two overs remaining, the two ‘worms’ charting the respective innings were neck and neck.
Yet England, having lost wickets at regular intervals, were relying on their tail to get them over the line after numbers four, five and six contributed just 24 runs between them, rendering fine innings from Alex Hales and Dawid Malan little more than sideshow attractions.
A 12-run defeat was hardly a humiliation but it did once again shed light on shortcomings which, without the headline names who are absent for this series, were all to obvious before the first ball was bowled inside the Cake Tin.
New Zealand made 196 for five
England’s chances of reaching the Tri Series final will disappear should New Zealand beat Australia on Friday. That should be the least of their T20 worries.
Choosing to bowl first on a peculiarly two-toned pitch, the visitors saw Guptill fizz out of the blocks.
Taking advantage of any morsel of width, the opener picked off six boundaries to take New Zealand to 39 in the fifth over before he lost his opening partner as Colin Munro, strangely subdued by his own recent standards, pulled Mark Wood to fine leg into the waiting hands of Sam Billings.
Williamson, who hadn’t passed 28 in IT20s in more than a year going into the game, should have been run out after just two balls, only for Wood to miss with three stumps to aim at from six yards away having collected off his own bowling.
It was a chance England would come to regret.
Guptill, like his captain, has been somewhat out of sorts in the shortest form at international level over the past four months, with half-a-dozen single-figure scores to his name in his previous 10 innings, but the notion that he may be struggling for rhythm at the crease seemed bizarre as he rattled along at a strike rate of better than 150.
A carefree hack of Adil Rashid over midwicket for six took New Zealand past 70 in the ninth over and, with Williamson getting his stride at the other end, the Blackcaps had a platform for a substantial total at the halfway mark.
Guptill, taking a fancy to Rashid, clubbed the Yorkshire spinner over wide long-on to go to his 13th T20 international half-century and followed that with a huge swipe halfway up the stands over midwicket.
Rashid, whose catching off his own bowling has been terrific on this tour, dropped a sharp chance to get rid of Williamson on 36 but fate smiled on the leggie.
Changing ends to bowl the final over of an expensive spell, Rashid strangled Guptill out with a legside full toss which the opener flicked straight to Liam Plunkett, up inside the ring at fine leg.
Chris Jordan took a stunning boundary catch
With his very next delivery, Rashid struck again.
This time he had Chris Jordan to thank. Jordan, hanging in the air like his basketball namesake Michael at long-off, claimed a frankly extraordinary one-handed catch above his head, landing centimetres from the boundary rope.
Colin de Grandhomme was the unfortunate batsman.
The double blow didn’t daze New Zealand, however. Williamson, timing the ball better with every passing over, cantered past 50 with back-to-back sixes off Wood, and debutant Mark Chapman got in on the act by pulling David Willey over square leg.
Man of the moment Jordan ultimately found a way to tame the Blackcaps captain, cutting off his scoring areas with an exhibition of death bowling in the 18th over which culminated in Williamson being bowled off his pads.
But, thanks to a handful of lusty late blows from Tim Seifert, New Zealand were still able to post an imposing total, England’s pursuit of which was knocked off-balance early on when Jason Roy flopped a tame catch to Trent Boult in the legside.
Hales, thrashing himself into something resembling good form, momentarily looked like he might beat Ravi Bopara’s record for England’s fastest IT20 half-century.
However, he picked out De Grandhomme at deep midwicket off Ish Sodhi, James Vince’s winter was epitomised by a seven-ball stay which began with a glorious driven six and finished with a needless run out and Tim Southee claimed a fine catch in the swirling wind to get rid of Jos Buttler.
James Vince was run out for 10
The tourists had to start again.
In Malan, England have a man who has looked capable of a game-changing contribution from the moment he arrived in the southern hemisphere in November and inside the Cake Tin it was no different.
But the Middlesex captain needed someone to act as doorstop while his team’s chances of winning the game were still ajar.
After Vince and Buttler, Sam Billings couldn’t do the job. Mitchell Santner bravely threw up a looping delivery, Billings’ eyes grew too wide and the resultant top-edge found a diving Sodhi at short fine leg.
Malan pushed on, reaching his third half-century in four T20 innings for his country, while Willey hit his first and fifth balls for six to leave England needing two runs per ball from the final four overs.
That ultimately proved too much.
Boult caught Malan in the deep off the bowling of Santner and followed that up by sending the bails of both Jordan and Liam Plunkett flying with whippet yorkers in the following over.
Willey’s dismissal, run out attempting a single that would have taken him off strike for the final over, summed up the frustrating nature of England’s demise.
Now then, when does the 50-over stuff start?