Dimitri Mascarenhas pummelled Jeetan Patel for four consecutive sixes in an over, to set England on their way to a comfortable 32-run victory in the first Twenty20 at Auckland. On an excellent batting track, Mascarenhas's intervention in the 16th over transformed an attainable total into an imposing one, and when Ryan Sidebottom removed the dangermen Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in his second over, New Zealand's challenge fell away. Jacob Oram, with 61 from 40 balls, kept their hopes alive until the final over, but it was Sidebottom, fittingly, who sealed the win with figures of 3 for 16.
New Zealand won the only previous Twenty20 encounter between these two sides, in the ICC tournament in Cape Town last September, but the boot today was very much on the other foot. Kevin Pietersen showed signs of his best form as he muscled his way to 43 from 23 balls, Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah played attractive cameos, and aside from Luke Wright, who was dismissed before he got going, each of England's top-order reached double figures at more than a run a ball.
England's dominance began from the moment the match got underway. England lost the toss and were inserted, but Phil Mustard started with real intent, slashing two fours in Kyle Mills' first over, closely followed by a violent six over midwicket off Chris Martin. Mustard fell in the same manner one over later, as Jesse Ryder took a comfortable catch in the deep to calm his nerves to calm his nerves on debut, but Pietersen clipped his first ball through square leg for four to maintain England's tempo.
Pietersen, strangely, has managed just one half-century in 12 Twenty20s - and that came against Zimbabwe to boot. But today he seemed set to add to that tally. He clobbered six fours in his first 14 balls, then launched Martin for a vast six down the ground, but New Zealand's fielders lived up to their reputations throughout the innings. With Pietersen on cruise control, Ross Taylor at short midwicket intercepted a screaming on-drive in Patel's first over.
Ian Bell by this stage had been and gone, bowled for 12 from 10 balls by Oram's slower-ball yorker, but Collingwood and Shah kept the total ticking along. Collingwood played one expansive stroke, a mighty flick for six off Patel, and later clobbered a Mills full-toss for four, while Shah saved his most savage strokes for the 19-year-old debutant, Tim Southee, whom he clipped for two fours and a sweet six over midwicket.
It was the other debutant, however, who did for Shah. Ryder entered the attack in the 14th over and with his second ball he beat an attempted sweep and claimed the plumbest of lbw decisions. That was his only over, however. Instead McCullum tossed the ball to his senior spinner, Patel, whom Mascarenhas bludgeoned four times in a row over deep midwicket. Patel did have his revenge when Mascarenhas picked him out with an uppercut to third man, but with 31 from 14 balls, he had made the difference to England's total.
New Zealand's tough task was made all the tougher when Sidebottom got hold of the new ball. Finding prodigious swing, and good pace and accuracy, he cut McCullum off in his prime with a surprise short ball that was gloved to Shah at short cover, before trapping Taylor plumb lbw for a second-ball duck.
Ryder responded with a series of brusque boundaries to keep New Zealand in touch with a spiralling run-rate, but wickets kept falling to peg their ambitions back. Jamie How picked out Pietersen at long-on with a slog down the ground, Ryder himself was run out two balls later as he backed up to a drive into the covers, and when Scott Styris and Peter Fulton were bowled in consecutive overs by Mascarenhas and Stuart Broad respectively, New Zealand had slumped to 70 for 6.
New Zealand weren't finished just yet. Mills smacked a massive six over the covers off Broad, only then to fall victim to the catch of the match, as James Anderson parried another exocet just inside the rope, and braced himself for the rebound before he toppled over.
Oram took up the cudgels with a brace of fours off Graeme Swann and a six and a four off Collingwood, but he had also to farm the strike to protect his tail - and that's not exactly easy in Twenty20 cricket. Patel and Martin helped New Zealand attain respectability, as the last two wickets added 50 runs in five overs, and the match was sealed with four balls to spare as Bell at long-off clung on to a sizzling drive.