English cricket’s makeover has delivered a place in the World Twenty20 final in Kolkata on Sunday. New Zealand’s first defeat of the tournament, by seven wickets with 17 balls to spare, ended their involvement. Instead, it is England, an adventurous England freed of old baggage, who lie in wait for the winners of Thursday’s semi-final between India and West Indies in Mumbai.
Jason Roy electrified England’s reply to New Zealand’s far-from-imposing 153 for 8, his 78 from 44 balls ended by Ish Sodhi’s dragged-down legbreak that beat his advance down the pitch and crashed into the timber. “I’ve got to realise I’m not a robot,” Roy said earlier in the tournament. He is precisely the opposite. At his best, he is humanity at its most tempestuous – a mini adrenalin rush – and his first T20I half-century, perfectly timed at the 13th attempt, was the second fastest in England T20 history as he racked it up in 26 balls.
There was wildness about the four boundaries he took from the first over from Corey Anderson, but he middled the ball with increasing certainty, tattooed forearms whirring. A sumptuous straight drive against Mitchell McClenaghan possessed particular poise. After such a scintillating start, he could have reined himself in against Mitchell Santner’s left-arm slows, such has been Santner’s effectiveness throughout the tournament, but instead despatched him with successive straight drive and sweep.
This was England’s third appearance at Delhi – New Zealand, by contrast, had toured the country and were playing at their fifth different venue – and, much to their liking, the Kotla pitch became quicker with each appearance. New Zealand brought in in an extra pace bowler, Adam Milne instead of Nathan McCullum, but England prospered.
Roy’s opening partner, Alex Hales, once the epitome of licentious attack, is now an old hand by comparison, a batsman who likes a quiet little look at the top of the innings: they shared a stand of 82 in 8.1 before Hales perished at long-on. Eoin Morgan, once credited with changing England’s one-day batting approach, is almost formulaic by comparison: he was lbw to Sodhi’s legbreak propping forward, another first-baller to go with the one against Afghanistan, his uncertain run overshadowed by England’s growth under his leadership.
England, at 110 for 3 in 12.2, needed less than a run a ball and Joe Root and Jos Buttler were shrewd enough to settle matters. In Sodhi’s last over they suddenly decided the celebrations had waited long enough – 22 followed, another pulled six from Buttler at the start of the next over giving him three in four balls and taking England to Kolkata.
England’s three group-stage victories had all been keen affairs, wins by two wickets, 15 runs and 10 runs. When New Zealand were 89 for 1 at halfway, they must have anticipated being stretched to the limit in chasing something close to 200. To be met by nearly 50 less, especially with New Zealand’s most talented pace bowlers, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, again omitted as they have been all tournament, was an immense relief.
The architects of that New Zealand fade out were Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan. Stokes finished with the best figures, 3 for 26, relishing his good fortune as he took wickets with successive full tosses, but it was Jordan, eyes as wide as if he was peering into a coal cellar and gold chain dangling, who once again displayed solidity beneath the bling.
Only one wicket fell to England in the Powerplay but it was the one they will have most craved. Martin Guptill, rested from New Zealand’s last match because of the hint of a hamstring strain, stayed leg side of the ball to counter David Willey’s inswing, and twice bludgeoned him for off-side boundaries in the opening over, but the tactic proved his undoing in the first ball of Willey’s second over as he flayed a catch on the angle to the wicketkeeper.
With a little more sharpness in the field from England, New Zealand might have been more hamstrung than their Powerplay score of 51 for 1 indicated. Morgan might have run out Guptill third ball had he picked up cleanly as he bore down from mid-off; Liam Plunkett’s leg-stump loosener fell to Rashid on the half volley, diving forward at short fine; and there was the hint of a stumping chance for Buttler, too, as Kane Williamson was beaten by Rashid’s leg-side wide. Generally, though, their outfielding was brisk and purposeful.
Munro, an ungainly, gum-chewing slugger, served New Zealand well with 46 from 32. The left-hander had little subtlety about him but his danger was evident as he arose from his crouch to batter the leg side. Stokes was not best pleased when two thick edges disappeared through Munro’s legs for fine-leg boundaries: it was not a time for trick shots.
Munro’s murderous reputation against spinners left Morgan grateful for the options in a six-strong attack. Moeen Ali did briefly appear for two overs immediately after halfway to remove Williamson with a skied return catch. Then Plunkett found an answer to Munro, directing his pace as wide outside off stump as he dared. Munro flayed and Moeen took a neat catch at third man. Plunkett allowed himself a sniff of contentment.
Then came England’s final squeeze. The pitch had enough life to encourage back-of-the-length options with the new ball, and the addition of two reliable death overs gave Jordan 1 for 24. New Zealand failed to score off half his deliveries and he took two safe catches in the outfield for good measure. He has arisen from uncertain beginnings to be a key player in this tournament.
The lark, though, belonged to Stokes. He was again given two England death overs because of a combative nature and ability to deliver a mean yorker. Such skills momentarily deserted him as he delivered two successive full tosses, but he was celebrating all the same as Luke Ronchi and Corey Anderson both fell to outfield catches. The sense then was that it would be England’s day.