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Match Analysis

England win tactical tussle to prevent repeat of semi-final defeat

In another closely fought contest, New Zealand were unable to replicate last year's stunning chase

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Jos Buttler connects a reverse sweep off Ish Sodhi  •  Getty Images

Jos Buttler connects a reverse sweep off Ish Sodhi  •  Getty Images

What happened at Lord's in 2019 will likely never be supplanted as the most iconic contest between these two sides. But while that might be easy to compartmentalise as the unrepeatable freak event it was, last year's T20 World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand felt far more replicable. This may not have been a semi-final, but for all practical purposes, it was a knockout for England, and, for large parts, New Zealand seemed to be clocking that what worked in Abu Dhabi worked pretty well in Brisbane, too.
It was a game of fluctuating quality, some sensational power hitting countered by canny spin bowling, stunning displays of athleticism neutralised by simple dropped chances. There was the cat-and-mouse game around match-ups and data, as each team jostled to gain the slenderest of statistical edges, unsurprising for two modern teams with little disparity in ability to distinguish them. There was enough tactical nous to keep contemporary T20 afficionados interested, enough emotional jeopardy for casual viewers and nervous partisans alike. It was, to stoop to cliché, a fantastic advert for the T20 game.
England were arguably the better side in Abu Dhabi, and deservedly got their reward in this game - even if one win out of two might be the least reward they could expect. Even winning the toss felt like a key moment for an England side that have won eight of 10 completed games defending scores this year, and just three of 12 looking to chase.
There was nothing fortunate about what followed, though. Opening has been a problem for England this year, but Jos Buttler and Alex Hales had the composure to play themselves into the contest, even as New Zealand cleverly bowled out the bulk of their slower bowlers before England's vaunted spin-slaying left-handers had found their way to the middle.
Mitchell Santner was bowled out by the 11th over, and Ish Sodhi three overs later, the pair having kept Hales and Buttler relatively leashed; their combined figures saw England manage 48 in eight overs. But the fast bowlers until then had gone for 62 off six, and it was Buttler's assault on Lockie Ferguson that ended up having the more telling impact.
The England captain came into the game with a strike rate of 160 against Ferguson, and the eight balls he faced off his first two overs only saw that go north. Ferguson was smashed for 21 runs - a sitter shelled by Daryl Mitchell notwithstanding - prompting Williamson to hold back his final two overs for the 18th and 20th.
That wasn't terrible in itself - Ferguson isn't the worst death bowler - but it meant bowling Boult out by the 17th. But Boult is statistically New Zealand's best death bowler since 2021, with an economy rate of 6.70 in the last four overs. On this occasion, he ended up with 0 for 40 in four; identical to his figures in that Abu Dhabi semi-final this threatened to replicate for so long. But it was just the seventh time in the last 24 T20Is he has gone wicketless. England had denied New Zealand's best bowler wickets, as well as overs at the death. Boult has historically been more expensive against England than any other side, but they were more than making up for their caution against spin with belligerence against pace.
Perhaps, on certain days, there's nothing you can do about Buttler in top form (other than hold on to catches, of course), but England showed they could deploy spin to useful effect just as well. While New Zealand had held Santner back until the fourth over in the hopes of extracting an early wicket via Boult's prodigious swing, Moeen Ali was spinning it away from Devon Conway as early as the first over. When the first wicket fell and Kane Williamson walked out, Adil Rashid was called up. It was the first time since November 2021 that both Moeen and Rashid have bowled with fielding restrictions in place, but it made sense: Williamson had scored six boundaries in 157 T20 balls against spin this year.
The death by match-ups only intensified, though. Finn Allen, New Zealand's likeliest outlet for a Buttler-style blitz, was pitted against Sam Curran in the fourth over. The opener has fallen to that type of bowling once every 11 balls; it took just four balls on the night for the tactic to pay off.
New Zealand had played their part in turning this contest into a cerebral battle of wits, but finding themselves outflanked, appeared to retreat into the comfort zone of what they knew. Where England had front-loaded with bat and ball at every opportunity, New Zealand treated that Abu Dhabi contest almost as their psychological happy place, and chose to backload heavily again. As Williamson tickled and tapped his way through an innings that at no point seemed to endanger England, the burden on Glenn Phillips, and the lower order to come, continued to accrue.
Williamson had lasted just 11 balls in the 2021 semi-final, scoring 5, but here he hung around for a run-a-ball 40. In a lower-scoring game, or with his side ahead of the game, it might have been the anchoring knock New Zealand were after, but the asking rate was nine at the start, and 12 when he was dismissed. It's the sort of innings that looks like poor batting at first, but in a chase, seemed even more indefensible.
England, however, dealt with what had happened in a manic final three overs in Abu Dhabi like the aberration that it was rather than the template New Zealand seemed to treat it as. England are simply too good, too clever, and too disciplined to allow 60-odd runs at the death every time. And in a format where percentage play factors into just about all decision-making, New Zealand - in choosing to follow precedent - paid the price for going for the lowest-percentage option of all.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000