New Zealand beat Afghanistan in their final Super 12 match, joining Pakistan from Group 2 in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 semi-final.
New Zealand’s campaign in the tournament has been characterised by how disciplined, clinical and calm they have been. And it was another such performance, set up by the fast bowlers, that sealed an eight-wicket victory in Abu Dhabi.
The win took them to eight points, with four wins from five matches. It confirmed a top-two place in the group for them, along with Pakistan, as the two teams join England and Australia from the other group in the semi-finals.
The result ended the semi-final hopes of India, who play their final match on Monday, as well as Afghanistan. The second match of the day, between Pakistan and Scotland, will confirm who finishes first in the group.
For Afghanistan, Najibullah Zadran made a determined half-century in a crucial match, but found little support from his teammates as they were held to 124/8. The four New Zealand pace bowlers shared seven wickets among themselves, with Trent Boult the pick of the lot with 3/17.
Devon Conway and Kane Williamson held off the Afghan spin attack to knock off the runs in 18.1 overs.
The win was set up by the New Zealand bowlers, who have adapted well to the conditions across the venues in the Super 12s.
After they chose to bat first, Afghanistan were greeted with clever and accurate bowling from the New Zealand quicks. Both Tim Southee and Boult got some swing early, before the pacers quickly adjusted to use the short ball to good effect.
Mohammad Shahzad, who began with a lofted four above Southee’s head, was pushed back by deliveries that rose on him. Shahzad, who had ducked at a few and wafted at a few other short deliveries, got horribly out of shape as he swung at a ball from Adam Milne, only for Conway to intercept the shot at full stretch above him and hold on to the catch after a bit of a juggle.
Boult then cramped Hazratullah Zazai for room and got the left-hander to get a leading edge to midwicket.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz was probably expecting another short ball, but was met with a full one from Southee which angled into his pads, trapping him LBW.
At 23/3 after the Powerplay, Williamson’s men were firmly on top.
The left-handed Najibullah broke the shackles with a four down the ground in the first over of spin, before getting back-to-back boundaries on either side of the square off Jimmy Neesham. The team fifty came off another leg-side four.
His partnership with Gulbadin Naib was broken at the stroke of drinks by Ish Sodhi, when Naib chopped a widish ball onto his stumps, but he carried on and added 59 with Mohammad Nabi.
After going three overs without a boundary, he took on Mitchell Santner, striking him for two sixes over long-on and deep midwicket. The half-century – his second of the tournament – came off 33 balls.
Najibullah had been strong down the ground all day. However, an excellent diving catch by Jimmy Neesham in that region in the deep brought an end to his innings. His 73 off 48 balls is the highest score of his T20I career.
He was one of four wickets to fall in a clutch at the death. Neesham conceded just two runs in the final over and wrapped up the innings with a wicket in the last ball.
Mujeeb makes a mark
The Black Caps chase got off to a good start, with regular boundaries in the first three overs, before Mujeeb Ur Rahman gave Afghanistan the breakthrough.
Mujeeb had missed a couple of games in the Super 12 because of an injury, and his return was seen as vital for Afghanistan’s chances. He struck with a carrom ball, as Daryl Mitchell knicked to the wicketkeeper.
However, he was punished when he dropped it short. Back-to-back boundaries from Martin Guptill on either side of the wicket took New Zealand to a comfortable 45/1 in the Powerplay.
400 T20 wickets for Rashid
Afghanistan were forced to bring in Rashid Khan early in their defence of a small total. Given the small total, the batters could get away with not taking many risks against him and simply chip away at the total.
Yet, despite their efforts, Rashid claimed his 400th wicket in T20s when a wrong ‘un had Guptill, who was looking to sweep, bowled.
Kane stays calm
Williamson was on 15 off 25 balls at one point, but quickly caught up with a couple of well-timed boundaries.
Conway too got into the attack, sweeping well against the spinners.
The duo paced their chase well, adding an unbroken 68 off 56 balls. Williamson finished with 40* off 42 while Conway had four boundaries in his 36* off 32 and hit the winning runs.