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Feature

Four overs, 67 runs - Jimmy Neesham and Glenn Phillips provide death-overs clinic

Namibia's seamers bowl only two dots at the death as New Zealand pair capitalise

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
05-Nov-2021
Namibia may be the smallest country in this T20 World Cup in terms of population but they had the largest fanbase in the world behind them in Sharjah on Friday. India knew their semi-final hopes would be over if New Zealand won their last two games of the tournament, meaning that an Associate nation of 2.5 million people became the World Cup's best-supported team for all of three hours.
It became apparent within 10 minutes of the start that this would be another tricky pitch to bat on after the final ball of Ruben Trumpelmann's first over scuttled through to Zane Green like a grubber but even still, New Zealand struggled. They were 96 for 4 after 16 overs, going at exactly a run a ball with Glenn Phillips and Jimmy Neesham battling for every single as the ball stayed low from a good length; with David Wiese just behind Jos Buttler as the competition's leading six-hitter, a target of around 130 might have felt within Namibia's range.
Instead, New Zealand walked off with 163 to defend after a clinic in death-overs batting from Phillips and Neesham, who used the lop-sided dimensions - one square boundary was just 57 metres long, some 16 metres shorter than the other - to their advantage and ran Namibia into the dirt. The 67 runs they put on in the final four overs broke India's tournament record for that phase, and Namibia's seamers bowled only two dot balls between them at the death.
"We talk throughout the innings as a batting unit about what we think is par and we were discussing from the halfway point that anything over 150 would be a really good score," Neesham said. "When we came out there it was just about trying to get underway, trying to face a few deliveries to get used to the surface, and hoping that we could make it up at the back end there.
"We knew that it was the kind of surface when your No. 8, 9, 10, 11 would struggle to come out and hit on. Sometimes when you play on surfaces back in Australia and New Zealand, and England's white-ball surfaces, you can back guys like Adam Milne and Tim Southee to come out and score 10 off 4 or 10 off 3 at the end [but] we knew because it was that extra bit challenging - a little bit slow, a little bit two-paced - that me and Glenn would probably be the guys to have to take us that length deeper."
"It's the nature of how we play our T20 cricket, even back in New Zealand. It's all about trying to load up the back end with wickets in hand and come out and be explosive"
Jimmy Neesham
They were ruthless in targeting the short boundary as a pair - only one of the seven boundaries they shared was hit to the long side, a late cut by Neesham past backward point - and managed ten twos between them in their six-over partnership. "We knew that if we could get in, and have that left-hand/right-hand combination at the end, one of us could be trying to attack and the other one could basically be trying to get the other one on strike," Neesham said. "It ended up working quite well.
"When you're playing on a surface like that, it's not going to be like it is in Dunedin or the Cake Tin or Eden Park - you're not going to come out and hit four or five boundaries in 10 balls, so it's about trying to put pressure on bowlers in different ways. [Running twos] was extremely important."
Namibia's bowlers were culpable, failing to hit the part of the pitch between six and eight metres from the stumps which has proved so effective in Sharjah throughout the tournament. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, their seamers conceded 50 runs from the 48 balls that pitched on or just short of a good length, but 32 off 13 when they went full and 19 off 5 when they dropped short. "I don't think our plans were necessarily right," Stephan Baard admitted. "We exposed the short boundary way too much."
Neesham won the Player-of-the-Match award for his efforts with the bat - and the wicket of Michael van Lingen in his only over - in what was his first contribution of note during the tournament, following three tight overs against Pakistan and scores of 1 and 10 not out in his two previous innings. He insisted that he was not overly fazed by his lack of opportunity in the middle: the 23 balls he faced against Namibia made this only his second-longest innings in 33 T20I caps.
"It's the nature of how we play our T20 cricket, even back in New Zealand," Neesham explained. "I can't imagine I would have faced more than 20 balls very often for New Zealand. It's all about trying to load up the back end with wickets in hand and come out and be explosive. It's just the nature of this team.
"Luke Ronchi [New Zealand's batting coach] is putting a lot through his shoulder for me to try and keep in nick off the park so it's about being as free and clear as I can be when I'm out there. The nature of being that No. 6 allrounder is that you'll be tasked with the game when the game is in hand."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98