Tim Seifert of Black Caps is bowled by Kane Richardson of Australia. Photo / Getty
On the plus side, this transtasman series will come down to a decider in front of a full house in Wellington.
On the minus side?
Nearly everything about the embarrassing Black Caps’ run chase which saw them rolled for 106 to lose by 50 runs.
“It was a poor performance from us in the second half,” said Kane Williamson, repeating for effect: “It was a poor batting performance.”
Two conclusions to be rushed to in the wake of this horror show: New Zealand are appalling in empty stadiums (they were given a pantsing at an empty SCG in a one-dayer as Covid-19 first made its presence felt); and Australia, even a seriously depleted Australia, can worm their way inside the New Zealanders’ heads like no other team.
This was Australia’s ninth win in 13 T20Is against New Zealand, eight of them have been laughers. By contrast, three of New Zealand’s four wins were squeakers.
Seeking a moderate 157 – at least 15 too many, but we’ll get to that – on a wicket that was sticking more than its outward appearance suggested, New Zealand’s top order dropped anchor and the rest of order couldn’t free themselves before smashing into the rocks.
Perhaps seduced by the fact there wasn’t the same urgency required to their chase as there was on Wednesday, Martin Guptill and Tim Seifert played pitter-pat in the power play and it had a calamitous knock-on effect on the rest of the order.
If it wasn’t for two fortuitous edged fours to Seifert off Jhye Richardson, New Zealand’s return from the first six overs would have been even more desperate than the 25-1 they squeezed out.
The complexities of batting on a holding wicket notwithstanding, it was a bizarre, counterproductive approach from two openers picked specifically for their ability to hit hard and long.
When Guptill (seven off 10) gently stroked an Ashton Agar to the cover sweeper it felt soft; when Seifert sucked up 28 balls for 19 before bunting a harmless Kane Richardson delivery onto his stumps, it felt like something much worse than that.
The openers’ lethargy forced Kane Williamson into a game he’s not best suited to, though he won’t enjoy the video analysis of his 12 deliveries that accrued eight painstaking runs.
From there it got, somehow, worse. Between them Australia’s spinners – Agar, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell bowled 11 overs and took 6-49. New Zealand’s top scorer was Kyle Jamieson with 30 although his overall contribution was still in debt.
Yes, this was really bad.
For 19 overs of this match, however, you wouldn’t have picked it.
In the first Wellington T20, the third of the series, the lack of wickets at the top meant that Australia could treat the final 12 overs as “the death” – that’s 72 balls of peril.
That wasn’t the case here. The death overs were pushed back to a death over, singular, but it was a hell of an over.
Williamson mixed his bowlers up early. Matthew Wade went early – nothing unusual in that although he made a promising start – and Josh Philippe perished in the first over after the power play ended.
Both fell to spinners – Wade to the excellent Mitchell Santner in the power play, Philippe to an Ish Sodhi long hop. It wasn’t Ahmedabad, but it was sticky enough to suggest Australia’s Agar, he of 6-30 in T20 3, and Zampa, the No 5-ranked T20 bowler in the world, would enjoy themselves later.
New Zealand continued to take wickets through the middle and the suddenly in-form Aaron Finch remained sedate for much of the innings.
It’s a 20-over game, however – the 20th was the one that counted.
Even when everything was seemingly going their way, New Zealand’s inability to switch to an effective defensive mode late in the innings was exposed.
Jamieson has endured the sort of start to his T20I career that stands in direct contrast to the other formats.
He was pretty good for three overs, but was handed the ball for the 20th over. He got it horribly wrong. Finch, who ended with a match-winning 79 not out from 55, sat deep in his crease and waited for Jamieson to miss his lengths, which he did five out of six times.
Four of them went the distance.
Ouch. It hurt the cause.
Not half as much as the top of the batting did though.