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England keep T20 World Cup hopes alive with victory over New Zealand

England keep T20 World Cup hopes alive with victory over New Zealand

Games between England and New Zealand rarely fail to provide drama and this one had plenty – heroic catches, mystifying drops, intriguing tactical nurdling from both captains and a match that teetered on a knife-edge until the crucial dismissal of Glenn Phillips near the end. But for England nothing mattered but the outcome, and this 20-run win means they go into their final match of the Super 12s, against Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday, knowing that a handsome victory will almost certainly take them into the semi-finals.

Success famously has many authors, but much of the credit for this one must go to Jos Buttler, who on the occasion of his 100th Twenty20 cap produced a memorable performance with bat, gloves and head. There was a fine if not exactly chanceless innings of 73 off 46, a fantastic catch, diving to his left, to dismiss Devon Conway, and a display of captaincy that fed to the shredder a rulebook England have often followed to the letter.

Moeen Ali did not just bowl – for the first time in the tournament – he was given the opening over; Mark Wood did not touch the ball until the last over of the powerplay, by which time both Sam Curran and Adil Rashid had had a go. Moeen and Liam Livingstone, who Buttler had acknowledged in the buildup had not been given enough of a chance to win games with the bat, came in at three and four respectively. In terms of captaincy, this was the night the Elton John tribute band turned in a surprise jazz-funk set.

England would have feared three New Zealand batters above all: Devon Conway, hero of the Kiwis’ thrashing of Australia; Finn Allen, their powerplay tornado, and Phillips, whose century anchored them to victory over Sri Lanka. Two of them fell cheaply and as a Rashid delivery found the edge of Phillips’s bat and looped towards Moeen at cover in the 10th over, with the 25-year-old at that point on 15, it seemed they had completed the set. What happened next was hard to comprehend: Moeen casually manoeuvred himself into position, raised his hands, and missed it completely; the ball hit his chest on its way down.

And for a while it felt as if that, there, was when the game would be decided, particularly when Phillips tried the same shot twice in Rashid’s next over and they both landed in the crowd. But it was not the decisive moment they feared, and instead England took a wicket in each of the next four overs – Kane Williamson first, followed by Jimmy Neesham, Daryl Mitchell and finally, crucially, Phillips himself.

England’s innings of 179 had appeared only marginally over par, particularly as they had threatened to considerably exceed it. Buttler and Alex Hales lasted half the innings and built a foundation but, though they scored well against New Zealand’s feared seam attack, they found themselves bogged down by spin.

Jos Buttler begins the celebrations after England’s win

Fearful perhaps of England’s left-hand-dominant middle-order, Mitchell Santner bowled two overs in the powerplay and Ish Sodhi came on shortly afterwards. On England’s bench Moeen, with an unparalleled reputation against spin, strapped on his pads. This was the moment for England to make good on their repeated pre-match promise for ultra-aggression, but the openers were no longer the best people to power England through the next phase of their innings. The first 30 balls of spin brought 31 runs, and as the players took drinks halfway through their innings Matthew Mott, England’s white-ball coach, walked to the middle. The obvious order would have been to go big or get out, and if that was indeed the instruction Hales picked option two.

He immediately reached 50, top-edging his 39th ball for four, but his 40th was his last: as he went down the pitch, Santner span the ball past him and Conway completed the stumping. Finally Moeen emerged, promoted to three but with only four Santner deliveries still to target. And then, after all that, Moeen was swiftly out to spin, picking out Trent Boult at long-on off Sodhi.

Still Buttler remained. He was dropped on eight and again on 40, and on the first occasion New Zealand celebrated after a diving Williamson collected the ball at cover, only for the TV umpire to see that it had clearly bounced. Buttler was beckoned back from the boundary edge, receiving not only a second chance but an apology from the New Zealand captain. The opportunity Mitchell put down was much more straightforward, the ball arcing hard but true towards the 31-year-old at deep midwicket.

Buttler also produced some wonderful shots, particularly when he somehow heaved Lockie Ferguson’s short ball wide of Santner at long-on, with a little extra spin to send it scuttling away from the fielder, and a flat-bat club that sent another short ball, this time from Boult, straight down the ground for six. He was finally run out in the penultimate over of England’s innings, and it felt like an innings of unfulfilled promise, and a target that might not quite be enough. In several ways Buttler had other plans.

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