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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

When losing a semi-final isn’t all bad

ART GALLERY

At least it was New Zealand.

The nice guys. The team that, but for the barest of margins, would have been crowned 50-over world champions at the home of cricket in England two years ago.

After that final, the Black Caps won praise for how they handled themselves in the face of a gut-wrenching defeat.

Then the Men’s T20 World Cup rolls around. England were once again the favourites, the top-ranked team. New Zealand were, again, seen as the dark horses, despite them arriving as world Test champions and with one of the strongest bowling attacks in the tournament.

Of course the two sides would meet in the semi-finals. It couldn’t be any other way.

But this time, the result was different. It was New Zealand who recovered from 13-2, who grew into the game, who smashed Chris Jordan’s third over for 23 runs, who got over the line with six balls to spare to reach the final.

It was fitting, too, that it was Jimmy Neesham who swung the game in New Zealand’s favour.

Neesham was the batter who, in 2019 at Lord’s, dropped to his haunches, head resting on his bat, after failing to see New Zealand over the line in the super over.

This time, his 11-ball 27 sparked New Zealand into life, taking the run-chase into manageable territory before Daryl Mitchell sealed the victory.

As staff and players celebrated the winning runs, Neesham stayed sat on his chair. He remained there after the game, staring out towards the pitch.

A lot can change in two years.

New Zealand are almost universally liked in cricket. They are a laidback group, close after spending years playing together through the various age groups. Led by Kane Williamson, the most unassuming of the lot, they play their cricket with a quiet determination.

Their self-effacing nature does not mean that they just roll over. They compete. They compete hard, as they did in Abu Dhabi, biding their time, closing down the runs, before Neesham and Mitchell, who finished unbeaten on 72, unleashed in the closing overs.

For England fans, this is not like losing to Australia, the country who regard beating England as a national sport. This is losing to the nice guys, the ones who – with a bit of fortune – could have been lifting the 50-over World Cup in place of England.

Even England coach Chris Silverwood had to admit – sort of – that it’s not too bad to lose to New Zealand.

“They’re a great bunch. I wish them all the best in the final. It doesn’t help us but at the same time it’s great for them,” he said.

Pakistan or Australia await New Zealand in Sunday’s final, where they have the chance to lift the trophy for the first time.

They might even have the support of the England fans whose hopes they scuppered on Wednesday night…

Lee: If our nation has to lose to anyone at this World Cup, I’m glad it’s New Zealand. Class act all round.

Jack Rule: There is no team that I’d rather be knocked out by than New Zealand. They deserved it and now all of England should get behind them now to win. How great it will be to have the two finalists from 2019 to hold the two World Cups. Just as it should be.

Percy: Shame we lost but New Zealand are brilliant. Thoroughly decent and play sport how it should be played.

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