England need 242 for World Cup glory after Woakes, Plunkett test New Zealand
Liam Plunkett struck at crucial moments to hand England control (AFP Photo)

LONDON: This World Cup, New Zealand have not once scored 300, but have defended relatively-low totals. Against India, New Zealand defended 240, which was enough to seal them a passage to the final. They will need to do it again, in the biggest game of the tournament, the World Cup final, after three wickets each from England‘s Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes kept New Zealand to 241.

New Zealand had a steady partnership building with Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls holding fort. But two strikes in quick succession by Plunkett hurt New Zealand’s recovery just when it seemed to arrive. Later, with all hopes pinned on the lower order, Woakes took out the last two recognised batsmen in Colin de Grandhomme and Tom Latham.

Zealand’s bane throughout this tournament has been the loss of an early first wicket. But Sunday, the start looked a lot more positive. They could have been one down in no time again when Kumar Dharmasena ruled Nicholls out LBW, but with the DRS timer almost running out, the opener went for the review and saved himself.

Martin Guptill, who had admitted frustrations with himself due to a long list of single-digit scores, managed to enter the doubles. He executed a slash for six over third man and a powerful straight drive that could have beheaded the bowler Jofra Archer. This was the Guptill of old, feet moving and looking a lot more assured in strokeplay. He received a delivery that nipped back just about enough, and took the review too. But this was way too full and the ball was crashing onto middle. At 29/1, Williamson was once again out early and with Nicholls, did what he did against India, absorb pressure and bat on.

The ball was doing a bit but England’s pacers were guilty of bowling far too many short balls and it helped Nicholls and Williamson pick up pace. Nicholls cracked a boundary to get going before whipping the ball away backward of square. Later, a back of a length ball was pulled behind square by. Nicholls, a late entry in New Zealand’s Playing XI in the tournament due to hamstring injury, was beginning to show the reason behind Williamson’s persistence in him.

Williamson’s graft and a bit of gumption from Nicholls helped New Zealand rebuild. There weren’t many boundary-hitting deliveries bit the Williamson and Nicholls’ running between the wickets was effective. England went on the attack, bringing in three slips a short point and a gully, but both batsman got themselves in and took New Zealand past 100.

Williamson, with a semi-slog sweep off Adil Rashid, was marching towards 600 runs in the tournament before Liam Plunkett once again emerged as the partnership-breaker. His double-strike broke through New Zealand’s resistance. The skipper offered a feather and the review showed a spike on the snicko. Still, Williamson’s 578 runs are the most by a captain in a single edition of a World Cup.

Nicholls, who had brought up his half-century off 71 balls and was beginning to settle into this groove, played away from his body and played on. When a group of New Zealand supporters sitting right next to the media overflow came back after a lunch break, New Zealand had lost their two set batsmen to their dismay.

Guptill’s waste of a review returned to haunt New Zealand. Ross Taylor was adjudged leg before wicket to but replays showed it was going over. New Zealand went boundary-less for 93 balls, with Plunkett, Mark Wood and Rashid tying them down. It was James Neesham’s back-to-back boundaries that finally had them going and when Latham struck a couple of fours in quick succession, New Zealand’s lower order was in for a crunch test. They could have really done with a repeat of Neesham’s 95 against Pakistan and Latham’s fighting half-century against England at the Riverside. Instead, Neesham holed out at mid-on for 19. Who gets him? Plunkett.

New Zealand collected just 45 runs between over 40 and 45 but Latham kept New Zealand breathing. However, three short of a fifty, he was foxed by a slower one from Woakes and lobbed a simple catch to substitute James Vince, who had also taken the catch to dismiss de Grandhomme. Henry clobbered a four towards deep midwicket off Woakes before being bowled by Archer.

Brief Scores: New Zealand 241/8 (Henry Nicholls 55, Tom Latham 47; Chris Woakes 3/37, Liam Plunkett 3/42) vs England