It’s been rather impossible to separate New Zealand and England recently. First, there was the epic ODI World Cup final between the two sides at Lord’s which ebbed and flowed before ending in a tie. The Super Over that followed incredibly finished with the same scores too, with England triumphing because they had scored more boundaries during their innings – a rule that has been modified since.
Currently, New Zealand and England are engaged in an enthralling series in a different format in a different hemisphere. Even here, it hasn’t been possible to separate them after four matches. Heading into the final game of the T20I series at Eden Park (Auckland), both teams have won two games each.
Eden Park is one of the smaller grounds you will find in international cricket and, more often than not, batsmen have loved playing here. Since 2017, the T20I run-rate at this stadium has been 9.2 which ranks among the highest in the world. Both teams have an array of big-hitting talent at their disposal as we have already seen in this series and, as a result, the ground should suit either side.
New Zealand and England have both chopped and changed over the course of the series, giving chances to multiple players to prove their worth with next year’s T20 World Cup on their minds.
In the last match, we saw Dawid Malan make a huge claim for a place in England’s XI even once all the big guns are back with a superb century. The left-handed batsman slammed nine fours and six sixes en route to an unbeaten 103 from 52 deliveries. He was supported brilliantly by captain Eoin Morgan who ended his innings on 91 from 41 balls.
In his T20 career, Malan’s least batting strike rate is against off-spin (112.7) which is an issue for the Kiwis here as they don’t possess an off-spinner in their squad.
Hence, Mitchell Santner will be key for New Zealand once again. In this series, the left-arm orthodox spinner has taken the most wickets (9). In the last match, he was hit for 20 runs in an over and yet managed to concede only 32 runs from his quota of four overs.
Santner has been a useful asset for the hosts in the powerplay overs, having taken three wickets from 18 deliveries between overs 1-6 in this series so far. What is more impressive is that he has an economy rate of 6.7 during this phase of the innings which is much lesser than the overall run-rate of 8.1 that has been seen in this series.
When it comes to the batting, at the top of the order, Colin Munro’s form has been a slight area of concern for the Blackcaps. The hard-hitting left-hander got a start in the last match but has managed only 64 runs in four innings in the series. At the other end, Martin Guptill has got starts in each of his last three innings but has failed to cross the 50-run mark. New Zealand will be hopeful that at least one of them make it big in the decider.
The middle overs have been a problem for Tim Southee’s team. While a run-rate of 8.8 over the course of the series seems like a good number, it is 1.2 runs per over lesser than England. And more worryingly for them, they have lost a wicket every 15.4 deliveries during this stage of the innings.
On the other hand, England gave Matt Parkinson a debut in the third T20I and he showed his wicket-taking abilities in the match that followed. With New Zealand chasing a target of 242, Parkinson took four scalps to finish off any chances of an unlikely win for the home team.
Like most leg-spinners, Parkinson enjoys bowling to right-handers more than he does to left-handers. In T20 cricket, he has an economy rate of 6.7 and a dot ball percentage of 27 against the former while it’s 8.9 and 15.3 respectively against the latter. Hence, if Parkinson plays, it might be worthwhile for New Zealand to think of sending Santner or James Neesham up the order to counter the Lancashire spinner.
Interestingly enough, there is rain predicted in Auckland on Sunday. So, four months on from the World Cup final, will we see an encounter between New Zealand and England end without anything to separate them again? Only this time, even if the match is rained out and the series ends in a tie, there won’t be a winner chosen on a boundary countback.
With the series on the line, both teams might make a couple of changes and play as close to a full strength team as possible from the resources available for this match.
New Zealand: Colin Munro, Martin Guptill, Tim Seifert (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Ross Taylor, James Neeesham, Daryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee (c), Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi.
England: Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings (wk), Lewis Gregory, Chris Jordan, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Adil Rashid, Matt Parkinson.