New Zealand all but guaranteed themselves a semifinal spot at the World Twenty20, following their first-up win over India by holding Australia eight runs short in Dharamsala on Friday (March 18).
Twice in a row, New Zealand have racked up totals that looked sub-par, then held their nerve with the ball on slower pitches to choke the scoring and bring high-powered batting line-ups undone.
They also went into a game for the first time in about a million years without a single McCullum, having omitted offspinner Nathan for seamer Mitchell McClenaghan. It would prove an inspired choice given the latter’s pivotal penultimate over.
That selection aside, New Zealand came to the party prepared for a slow night, leaving Trent Boult and Tim Southee on the bench. That’s exactly what they got, as Australia’s batsmen one by one perished trying to hit their way out of trouble.
On the day, the target was 143, and with 42 of those sliced away within five overs, the chase looked like it would be more of a saunter.
Australia had finally settled on an opening partnership, Usman Khawaja stroking cover drives and pulls with effortless poise, and Shane Watson supplying low-key support. David Warner was listed to bat at four, while Aaron Finch missed out.
But Khawaja’s run out at the end of the ninth over would be the turning point – the only way he looked like getting out after his 38 from 27 balls.
Watson and Steven Smith were already gone, the former driving McClenaghan to mid-off, the latter walking past a turning ball from Mitchell Santner, the left-arm spinner.
That left Khawaja batting with Warner, whose speed between the wickets would bring his partner undone. When Warner drove down the ground, the speedster was always confident of a second run. But he didn’t factor in that he wasn’t going to the danger end. A brilliant flat disposal from Ish Sodhi gave Grant Elliot time to knock off the bails with the batsman just short.
Warner didn’t stick around to repair the damage, holing out to deep midwicket from the first ball of a Santner over, and making the score 66 for 4.
Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh consolidated the innings, though you wouldn’t say they stabilised it, given Maxwell’s erratic batting. Here, there, and everywhere, he was all around the crease, changing his grip, and as often as not, playing all around the ball. His two boundaries came from inside edges slogging Adam Milne’s pace.
But like those before him, he tried to smash his way out of trouble, and gave it away to Kane Williamson at cover. It was reward for Sodhi, turning a miserly none for 8 from two overs into a dangerous 1 for 9 from three.
Still, in the 17th over, you felt it was Australia’s game. Needing 42 from 24 balls, and with the impressive Santner bowling, Australia’s own newbies in Marsh and Ashton Agar took him for a straight six apiece, and cut the equation to 27 from 18.
But Sodhi bowled his last over for five, and with the pressure on, Williamson’s gamble to bring back McClenaghan paid off. Both batsmen were caught in the deep, three runs were conceded, and 19 from the last over proved beyond even the finishing powers of James Faulkner.
Corey Anderson dismissed both Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile, with only Peter Nevill’s first-ball six providing some momentary excitement. In the end, it would simply provide a more flattering margin of defeat.
That hadn’t looked likely at the innings break, after New Zealand similarly let a fast start subside, after Martin Guptill’s clubbing and Williamson’s timing had them 58 for no loss after six overs.
Watson opened the bowling with the economy typical of his recent efforts, and finished with 1 for 22 from his four overs. But Coulter-Nile was glided and pulled, and Agar dished up two full tosses to start the third over that Guptill sent into the stand over wide long-on.
Adam Zampa turned the screws with his first over of legspin, and when Guptill tried his pick-up shot against Faulkner, it had enough hang time to allow Maxwell to get around from long-on to cow corner. Guptill’s 39 would be the innings’ top score.
Maxwell stepped up to the bowling crease next over, and delivering offspin around the wicket to the right-handed Williamson, had him caught down the ground for 24. Anderson followed in similar fashion.
Colin Munro played a few incredible shots, including a switch-hit late cut that befuddled the mind with its complexity, elegance and timing. But Marsh had him caught from a skewed slog for 23, and the innings never really got going, with Santner and Elliott both run out in the final-over rush.
They needn’t have bothered. In the end they were comfortably enough in control, and leave Dharamsala in a good position in their group.
As for Australia, once again the team tried to blast its way out of trouble, failing to realise that you can’t dig upwards. With India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to come, they have some spadework to do.