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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Mitchell learns to rock as Kiwis pull off heist, enter T20 World Cup final

After scoring a match-winning 72 not out off 47 balls, Mitchell restricted his celebration to a couple of fist pumps. In the NZ dug-out, his teammates and coaching staff, celebrated joyously.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: November 11, 2021 7:27:55 am
Mitchell learns to rock as Kiwis pull off heist, enter T20 World Cup finalNew Zealand's batsman Daryl Mitchell celebrates after winning the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup semi-final match against England in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. New Zealand beat England by 5 wickets with 6 balls remaining. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

It was a chance selection that changed Daryl Mitchell’s T20 World Cup future. Coming into the tournament, he wasn’t New Zealand’s first-choice opener. Wicketkeeper Tim Seifert was to partner Martin Guptill at the top.

But Seifert agreed to bat down the order in New Zealand’s second warm-up game, against Pakistan, and through his 20-ball 27, Mitchell emerged as a better power-hitting option in the Powerplay. The Kiwis are unassuming winners and in their five-wicket victory over England in the semifinal on Wednesday, they produced an unlikely hero.

Mitchell is the angry young man in the New Zealand team, an aberration in a group of well-behaved gentlemen. Last year, he was fined for using foul language during a Test against the West Indies. But the team culture has helped him subdue his anger. After scoring a match-winning 72 not out off 47 balls, he restricted his celebration to a couple of fist pumps. In the New Zealand dug-out, his teammates and coaching staff, the scar of the 2019 World Cup final still fresh in memory, celebrated joyously. In the stands, a young Kiwi fan, exhausted with her passionate cheering for the team, was teary-eyed. Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, walked up to his counterpart Eoin Morgan to offer commiseration.

Throughout their innings, it had been a tightrope walk for New Zealand, chasing 167 for victory. They lost Martin Guptill and Williamson with only 13 runs on the board. Mitchell stitched an 82-run partnership with Devon Conway for the third wicket. But they choked to Liam Livingstone’s spin in the middle overs, losing two quick wickets.

It’s a game of fine margins. Jimmy Neesham hit a slower ball from Chris Jordan towards the deep mid-wicket boundary and Jonny Bairstow acrobatically relayed the catch to Livingstone, just that his bent knee touched the rope. That was the difference between a six and a dismissal, when New Zealand were facing an asking rate of 11-plus. Adil Rashid bowled the next over and conceded two maximums. And although Neesham was out on the final ball after a game-turning 11-ball 27, Mitchell laid into Chris Woakes with a 20-run over to seal his team’s spot in the final.

After an overdose of mediocrity at this T20 World Cup, this game oozed quality. England punched. New Zealand counter-punched. In the end, the Kiwis were smiling, for a change.

Cut and thrust

The beginning was a rewind to how things panned out for New Zealand in their game against India. Tim Southee and Trent Boult bowled in the right areas and built pressure upfront. Jos Buttler responded through back-to-back fours off Boult, hitting straight and not resorting to slogs.

Bairstow, Buttler’s new opening partner, was getting stuck at the other end, with the run rate hovering around six-and-a-half per over in the Powerplay. England were missing Jason Roy’s charge. Adam Milne came and put Bairstow out of his misery, Williamson taking a fine diving catch.

Spin was brought on and a middle-overs choke looked to be the ploy. Ish Sodhi beat Buttler with flight, the latter countered with a reverse sweep for four against Mitchell Santner. But Buttler probably went for one reverse sweep too many, to a flattish leg-break from Sodhi, and was out leg-before.

Morgan sent Moeen Ali at No. 4 to neuter Santner and scored tactically over Williamson. After just one over, the left-arm spinner was removed from the attack and with two left-handers at the crease. Part-time wicketkeeper-cum-offie Glenn Phillips was introduced instead. Dawid Malan, fresh from a reprieve in the previous over, merrily hit Phillips for a couple of fours. Ravichandran Ashwin wasn’t impressed.

“2 lefties — so bowl a keeper who can bowl a bit of off spin and bowl santner for 1 over 8 runs. Santner has never got a left hander out in his career #perceptionsaboutthegame. Hope those 11 runs won’t be a deciding factor,” he posted on Twitter before going into the “perception challenge” that spinners, including him, constantly face in the shorter formats. “And for all those who will come to create a war between individuals, let me tell you this is a perception challenge that a spin bowler is living with. It’s a challenge all around the T20 game.” Thankfully for the Black Caps, those 11 runs didn’t prove costly.

On a pitch with a bit of tennis-ball bounce, Malan and Moeen were finding it difficult to up the ante. But they ran their singles well, knowing that boundaries would eventually take care of themselves.

When Sodhi bowled wide, Malan accepted the favour. When Southee dropped short, he thumped him over deep-square for a six. Southee came back well with another shortish delivery that was a fraction fuller. Malan tried to pull, but the lower bounce took a feather to the wicketkeeper.

England’s batting depth took them past 160, Livingstone providing firepower at the death and Moeen remaining unbeaten on 51 off 37 balls. It wasn’t enough.

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