New Zealand find a way

A look back at the the first World Cup semi-final.

There are two Daryl Mitchells in professional cricket. For the longest time, I wondered why Worcestershire's Daryl Mitchell was playing domestic cricket in New Zealand and hitting so many sixes. Even with cricket's obsession with the word Mitchell, how many Daryl Mitchell's can there be.

Eventually, I discovered that the New Zealand Mitchell was a middle-order hitter who bowled a bit of seam.  He looked like a good cricketer, but no one was talking him up, unlike other Kiwi prospects. His only major experience was the blast this year. And for New Zealand, he had been fine, but nothing more. His medium pace probably doesn't translate at international level. So he was an odd cricketer for them.

So before this tournament, I didn't even truly factor him into their team. They had so many other options at the top and middle, I couldn't see how he would play.  But they opened with him.

Kane Williamson talked about his character when they made the decision. Sure, but New Zealand came to a World Cup with a squad full of opening talent, and they made the one guy who had never opened in his professional career bat first.

All of his opening has been at this tournament. It does kind of prove the point that almost anyone can open in T20. The innings itself was bizarre, the big-hitting Mitchell got completely stuck, a little like Moeen Ali's knock. And at times looked like a liability as he was 46 off 40 with more mishits than boundaries.

With a shallower batting lineup than some, part of the Kiwi plan is to bat long through the innings though. So he did that. And then when Neesham changed the game, Mitchell ended it with 26 from six. So the sixth time in his life he opened the batting he made 72, and because of that, his team is in the World Cup final.

And this game was not a good matchup for New Zealand. We tend to believe the knockout games are about who wants it more, but in knockout matches, the better team can come up against a side that they just can't work out. That wasn't really the case here; New Zealand were put off by the matchups. The problem for New Zealand is they have two really good spinners, who both turn it the same direction. And Sodhi doesn't have a wrong’un. So they felt like they could only take the risk with one of them. And they chose Santner.

Here, let R Ashwin tell the story.

Even if you think Williamson was wrong to bowl a part-time keeper with a better matchup, it's important to remember how much they can influence a game. New Zealand gave up their strength of bowling Santner and Sodhi in the middle, because of England’s lefties. So they felt they couldn't do that. They had to change who they were as a team for this match.

And this is why Ashwin is upset. So are others, like this guy who thinks I am part of the problem.

The thing is, I agree with Ashwin. The first thing you need to know is that Santner averages less against left-handers.

And not even a little, a lot. He is more expensive against them, almost a run an over, but Santner would not be at this level if he couldn't bowl to them. And how do I know this well I have written it before. Because New Zealand chose not to bowl Santner because of two left-handers in the last World Cup.

ODI stats from 2019

A matchup doesn't just mean you don't bowl left-arm orthodox to a left-hander. It means you delve deeper into what both batters do, what the bowler is better at, where the small boundary is, and then make an informed decision. I don't know if New Zealand made the right decision, but I know that Phillips over was expensive.

It meant that Jimmy Neesham had to bowl two overs, including one at the death. No one wants your sixth bowler at the death. Phillips has a good record against left-handers, but from 92 balls - as until recently, he was a keeper - so it's not an ideal situation.

And this affected the Kiwi's entire plan. Because they're not a deep batting team, Santner is handy at seven, Milne the same at eight, and Southee has sixes at nine. But it's not strong, even if it looks long. So they have won in this World Cup by keeping teams to low scores. They are the most frugal team this World Cup.

Having very dependable front-line bowlers and going deep into your sixth and seventh options is not ideal. Neesham had bowled eight overs coming into this match, Phillips none. Their three combined went for 29 runs.  Then you only needed one front line bowler to have a poor day, and the score gets higher than you want. Trent Boult was the man who delivered five wides on the way to 40 runs. The score looked high, if not unscaleable.

It looked a shit-tonne higher when they lost two of their all-time run-scorers in the powerplay. And that was strange. Jofra Archer was supposed to be taking the new ball for England. Sam Curran was also a big chance to be using it as well.

The one person unlikely to do it was Chris Woakes.  He hasn't played T20 cricket in the two years before this, but England have been struck by injuries, and so they went down their depth chart to find their next best new-ball bowler.

Woakes has dominated ODI cricket at the top, and so he has in this tournament. He's delivered 90 powerplay balls, taken six wickets and gone at 5.2 runs an over. England's third choice has been first class.  Today he took two early wickets, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson.

England got a long way in front. Mitchell and Conway really let the chase get bloated. England's fifth bowler was Liam Livingstone, and talking about matchups, he is a one-man matchup machine. The ability to bowl offspin and legspin depending on his mood. He also is decent at both skills, and mixes it up. It isn't just off-spin to lefties and leagues to the righties. He got Conway out of the front of the hand ball, and he delivered leg spinners to him. He ended up with 2/24. That's a great result being how late he came into the innings, he didn't get any soft overs and he's your fifth option, or sixth, depending on the day.

When he finished, depending on your win predictor of choice, England were around 80% of winning. The towels were to out the field for the dew, but Livingstone was bowling spin, all kinds of it. And the dew didn't seem to bother him as much.

Then Chris Jordan came on to bowl. It is worth noting that if England had a full-strength team, they would have been a completely different unit. Losing Jofra Archer, Sam Curran, Tymal Mills, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes is huge. But while Mills might be the least known or respected of these players, his absence was what mattered here. Now if that dew was in, maybe there is nothing he can do either.

But as death bowlers go, Mills has been as good as anyone over the last five years, and Jordan has not.

Jordan has played more international cricket and IPL in that time than Mills. But England covered pretty much all the other injuries pretty well. Malan stepped up; he's probably not in this side if Stokes is fit. Woakes was covering for Jofra and Curran really, and did great. Having Bairstow cover Roy is huge, even if he failed.  But Wood's overs were finished by the 15th because he's not a death bowler, so Jordan had to step up on his own.  When the plan was for him to support Mills.

And Jordan had a terrible over.  He has had far worse in his career purely by numbers (30 is the most). But, this one looked bad. This wasn't just a hitter lining you up. He missed his length almost every ball; he missed his line on both sides for wides. He might still have got away with all this if Bairstow's knee hadn't hit the rope, or if Livingstone had gone for the second chance. But Jordan was all over the shop, unable to control the ball.

And then to run into Jimmy Neesham. If you are a death specialist batter, you just don't bat that much. Entire leagues can go by without you facing 50 balls. It means that even the best players on earth just don't face that many balls.  Everyone thinks of Neesham as a death hitter, but in the last 5 years he's only made 495 runs in the last four overs of matches.

26 of them came in ten balls during a World Cup semi-final. Now clearly Chris Jordan had a bad over, and Jonny Bairstow's knee helped as well.  But this is what Neesham is in the team for, the ability to hit sixes on days when others can't. His over against Jordan took a very probably loss to a very probable win. To do that, on this pitch in this game, from the start of your innings, incredible.

When New Zealand did so well in the 2019 World Cup, it was really interesting to me, as other teams had more noticeable strengths, better form, and the ability to do things that New Zealand cannot.

In a way I feel the exact same way now. Had England got to 180, which was very possible with Neesham bowling the last over to Livingstone, I wondered if New Zealand could even get to that total. Turns out, they probably would have, just.

But there is something else about them. New Zealand has not come into either of these last two world cups with great form. In this case, they made up an opener just to start, but they are a good tournament team. And here is why, their bowling is strong. Neesham is a better sixth option than some teams have fifth. And their front-liners take wickets and keep you under pressure. And their batting is just high IQ. This means that their bowlers don't let you get too many, and their batters will try to work out how to get a few more.

They've now made the last three ICC finals; New Zealand seems to always find a way.