New Zealand have plenty of problems at the top, but they have a problem of plenty when it comes to their lower middle-order. Colin de Grandhomme, Jimmy Neesham, Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner are all part of their squad for the T20Is against England and three of them already have a reputation for being top finishers.
With New Zealand 1-0 down in Wellington on Sunday, Neesham, who was playing his first T20I in more than two years, shellacked 42 off 22 balls to lift New Zealand from 121 for 5 in the 14th over to 176 for 8 in 20.
Neesham's hits were not only timely, but well thought out. The straight boundaries are unusually long at the Westpac Stadium while the square boundaries are much shorter. And Neesham, who turns out for Wellington in domestic cricket, used that to his advantage, scoring 30 of his 42 runs between backward square-leg and midwicket [eight runs at backward square, seven at forward square, and 15 at midwicket].
Neesham had walked in to bat when New Zealand had lost half of their side and needed an end-overs spark. And though his partner at the other end, Ross Taylor, couldn't get the big shots away, he found fluency immediately, whipping Adil Rashid for a leg-side four. Two balls later, he whacked the legspinner to deep midwicket, and James Vince dropped the catch.
He tightened up thereafter, which helped considering Sam Curran was mixing things up with his rapid yorkers and slower variations, but when the bowler erred in length, Neesham launched him over square leg for six.
Saqib Mahmood, who was making his T20I debut, had four men posted on the leg-side boundary, but Neesham still cleared the ropes when he overpitched one. Momentum was now rapidly shifting in New Zealand's favour and Neesham, having put in the work, began to take those extra liberties necessary to win T20 games, targeting England's best death bowler. Chris Jordan too was cracked over midwicket, part of a series of five boundaries in the last five overs of the innings. Neesham was responsible for them all.
Neesham had been chosen to tackle that Super Over along with Martin Guptill, but was left out of the squad for New Zealand's three T20Is in Sri Lanka. So he linked up with the Trinbago Knight Riders in CPL 2019, and although he produced a Man-of-the-Match performance in his first game against St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, his form cooled off so much that he was dropped for the knockouts.
Neesham managed 75 runs in seven innings at a strike rate below 130 in the Caribbean, but reminded the world of his big-hitting abilities in his very first match of the home summer.
"I want to play every game I can for New Zealand," he told stuff.co.nz on the eve of the third T20I in Nelson. "I just ticked over 29 and I'm at the stage of my career where I feel like I've started to get things together," he said. "When you try to hit at the death at T20 you don't want to leave guys like Tim Southee and Mitch Santner to do the lion's share of the work in the last two-three overs.
"We talked about trying to bridge that gap. It was difficult to hit classical boundaries along the ground, on that ground, and it was just about picking a moment and a bowler to pull the trigger."
In the series opener in Christchurch, it was Mitchell who had stepped up as the finisher, crunching 30 off 17 balls. While there was a larger spotlight on his father John who works with the England rugby team as their defence coach, Mitchell laid into England's slower-ball specialist Pat Brown to haul New Zealand past 150. It wasn't enough for New Zealand, but there were signs that Mitchell could handle the pressure in the slog overs.
He is used to that - both with bat and ball - at Northern Knights in the Super Smash but this was his first innings of note in four attempts in T20Is. He had broken into New Zealand's squad last summer on the back of 323 runs at a strike rate of almost 140 in Knights' run to the Super Smash final. Nobody had hit more sixes than his 19 in last season's domestic T20 tournament.
Mitchell was also Knights' go-to death bowler, along with Kyle Abbott, often tricking the opposition with his slower cutters and wide yorkers. His progress lends more all-round depth to New Zealand, who are already thinking about ways to exploit it with the T20 World Cup looming next year. The team management has pushed de Grandhomme up to No. 4 to give the hard-hitting allrounder more overs to influence the game even if it pushes Taylor, the more recognised batsman, down to No. 5.
In the second T20I in Wellington, New Zealand had Southee batting at No. 9 and if they opt to pick an extra seamer in place of Ish Sodhi, allrounder Scott Kuggeleijn could slot in at No. 10. This depth seeps into the bowling line-up as well - other top T20 sides like Australia, Pakistan, or India don't have as many two-in-one options in their ranks. Only the team that became two-time world champions in 2016 do.