ABU DHABI: Before the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, Daryl Mitchell had never opened the batting in T20 professional cricket. As his father, the former All Black John Mitchell, watched on in Abu Dhabi, the man from Hamilton played the innings of his life with 72* off 47 to drag his country to its first final after a thrilling semi-final that ebbed and flowed until the very end.
Talk of England v New Zealand in a World Cup stirred up the memory of that famous 2019 World Cup Final. “Cricket was the real winner right?” Try saying that to New Zealand fans. Try saying that to Jimmy Neesham, who was left disconsolate on the Lord’s outfield on that sunlit evening at Lords. Neesham had unfinished business.
With the Black Caps needing 57 off the final four overs, this was England’s game to lose. New Zealand needed more than two runs a ball. But Neesham walked out with a purpose and a mission, stepping up to rip the heart out of England, with a game-changing cameo of 27 off 11. By the time he was dismissed, the equation was 20 from two overs.
Mitchell finished things off with an over to spare. When asked before the match about the absence of Jason Roy, Kane Wiliamson said the England team was still full of “match-winners” before outlining that “we have a number of match-winners as well.” Thanks to them, he will have the opportunity to lead New Zealand to a first-ever T20 World title on Sunday in Dubai.
Earlier, Williamson won the toss and chose to field. Nine of the 14 matches here in the tournament had been won by the chasing side. Perhaps, this was finally New Zealand’s time.
Jonny Bairstow was promoted to open and despite a couple of boundaries, it was Wiliamson who took a great low diving catch off Adam Milne’s first delivery to remove the Yorkshireman. Jos Buttler again looked in fine nick. A wonderful reverse sweep in classic Buttler fashion the pick of the bunch of his four boundaries, but when he was trapped in front by Ish Sodhi, New Zealand must have sensed an opening.
The pairing of Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali kept the scoreboard ticking and took England into three figures. When Malan was out caught behind, the platform was set for a late flourish.
Moeen danced down the strip to send Sodhi for six over the longest boundary and into the somewhat aesthetically pleasing social distancing pods that surround the grass banks of the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. In fact, it was quite a delightful shot, to say the least, and he followed that up by hoisting a slower bouncer from Milne for six more.
By now, the brutal Liam Livingstone was desperate to join in the party and he violently smashed one back over the head of Milne. Moeen brought up his half-century in the final over dispatching a full toss from Neesham and at the interval, England would have certainly fancied their chances of a shot at World Cup glory on Sunday.
Defending 166, they got off to a dream start. Guptil was caught off the third ball from Chris Woakes and when Williamson was out attempting a ramp shot off Woakes, Morgan and England were well and truly in the driver’s seat. But such is the beauty of the shorter format, that it only takes a knock or two to change the course of the game.
Mitchell and Devon Conway partnered to steady the ship, only for the spin of Liam Livingstone to do for Conway with a slider and then account for Glenn Phillips. The Black Caps needed something pretty special.
Who else but that man? Step up Jimmy Neesham, taking Chris Jordan for 23 in an over, which included the turning moment. In that 2019 final, it seemed as if luck was in England’s favor. Trent Boult in 2019. Jonny Bairstow two years on. Bairstow scrambled round to take a blinder but hit the rope as he fell down and relayed it to Livingstone. The umpire raised his hands to signal six and New Zealand were right back in it.
With 34 needed from three, Morgan turned to one of his most trusted in Adil Rashid. Neesham duly launched Rashid into the Abu Dhabi night sky the next ball and when Mitchell brought up his first T20 half-century for New Zealand with a huge six off the back foot, the tables had dramatically turned. It was now up to England to do something special.
Neesham had caused havoc with his assault but he could not finish the game off slapping the final ball of the 18th straight to Morgan. With 20 needed off two, the whispers of a Super Over grew louder.
Mitchell was not there that day in 2019 and he was in no mood to entertain the prospect of one, blasting Woakes to complete a comeback of epic proportions, sending the Black Caps dugout into ecstasy.
After the match, Mitchell said, “It was a bit of a whirlwind at the end, I can’t remember what was going on.” Well, one thing is for sure. His is now a name that will certainly be remembered across the cricketing world.