It would be easy to pigeonhole New Zealand’s victory over England as cathartic, retribution for what happened in the World Cup final back in 2019. No doubt there will be some of those thoughts in the New Zealand camp, particularly for Jimmy Neesham after what he went through in that Lord’s Super Over. But viewing this six-wicket victory in such a way ignores the larger context of New Zealand’s cricket. After all, this is a team that has made a habit of winning clutch matches across all formats. This is simply another one to add to the list.
New Zealand are World Test Champions, of course. They made the 2015 and 2019 50-over World Cup finals as well. They will play either Pakistan or Australia in Dubai on Sunday with the aim of winning their first ever T20 World Cup. This was not an underdog victory by any means. New Zealand are a team which lives for tournament play. They may be the nice guys of men’s cricket but they are utterly ruthless when they get into the heat of a winner takes all game.
In knock-out matches, opponents just can’t shake New Zealand off, like a toddler who won’t let go of their mum’s leg. Then when they see an opportunity to make a decisive play, they take it. That was how they defeated India in the World Test Championship Final during the summer. It is also how they managed to stay in that World Cup Final at Lord’s so long against an England team that were, on paper at least, far stronger than them. It was also the template for New Zealand’s victory today.
Firstly, England’s batters never really dominated. Of all New Zealand’s bowlers, only Trent Boult had a difficult day. The rest of them squeezed and strangled and suffocated England. Tim Southee conceded just a run-a-ball. Ish Sodhi and Adam Milne kept the pressure on during the middle. Neesham bowled two excellent death overs. England are a six hitting team who were not allowed to hit that many sixes. New Zealand’s bowlers simply wouldn’t let them. England only hit four sixes in 20 overs and their eventual total was no more than par.
With four overs of the chase remaining, though, it looked enough. New Zealand needed two runs a ball and had showed no signs in any of the previous 16 overs that they were capable of doing that. But realising England’s death bowling was vulnerable, Neesham, fuelled perhaps by his failure to get his side over the line in 2019, and Mitchell, fuelled by a desire to finally claim his moment in the spotlight after a decade long career striving for it, produced a stunning display of hitting. Yet again, New Zealand hauled themselves back from the abyss. Yet again, they had recognised a moment of opportunity and took it.
It is testament to the depth of England’s white-ball stocks that a side missing Jason Roy, Tymal Mills, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran could still push New Zealand so close. But there will be questions about their selection. Sam Billings was brought into the side instead of an extra bowler but didn’t get to face a delivery. There will be questions about tactics – could England have gone harder in the first ten overs given their batting depth? There will also be questions too about whether Moeen Ali should have bowled in the middle period overs.
But all of that ignores the simple fact that England bowled poorly in the last three overs of the innings. Chris Jordan missed all but one of his attempted yorkers in a 17th over that cost 23 and changed the course of the match. Then Adil Rashid bowled a half-volley and a long-hop in the next over that both got the treatment. In the 19th, Chris Woakes bowled slot balls to Mitchell that were dispatched high and long into the Abu Dhabi night sky. At the very moment they had the game in their grasp, England’s execution let them down.
Not that hitting of the consistency that Neesham and Mitchell managed is a simple task. England may have missed their lengths and lines but those deliveries still needed capitalising on. The New Zealand pair barely missed out on a bad ball in the last three overs. And what made their partnership even more impressive was that until it actually happened it never seemed like happening.
Mitchell had barely timed a shot in the first three quarters of the innings. It seemed that the longer he stayed at the crease, the slower the ball was actually coming off his bat. Neesham came to the crease with absolutely no time to get used to the surface. Throughout the game, batters had struggled to play aggressively from the outset of their innings on a pitch that Eoin Morgan said afterwards was slightly two paced. Yet Neesham picked up his bat, swung hard and nailed three sixes and a four in 11 deliveries. Then the ball started to screech off Mitchell’s bat too, including for the winning boundary.
New Zealand scored 57 runs off the last three overs to get themselves over the line. It was brutal. But Mitchell and Neesham were only able to produce their match-winning partnership because of the platform that Devon Conway and Mitchell himself had set earlier. In the first 16 overs of the chase, New Zealand had kept wickets in hand and themselves in the game. They knew that in tournament play, the longer you stay in the mix, the more pressure that comes on your opponents. In the end, England’s bowlers cracked under that pressure. New Zealand’s plan was obvious. Their execution was perfect.
After the match, Morgan said he was proud of what his team had achieved in this tournament. He was right to do so. England have played well in the UAE but they did not have enough against a New Zealand team who are so sure of themselves and so sure of what they are trying to do. They kept England under pressure throughout this game, biding their time, waiting for their chance. And then when it was time to strike, they didn’t think twice.
Retribution for Lord’s in 2019? Not really. This was just another regular day of New Zealand cricket.