England lose 5 for 10 in 18 balls to throw away chase as New Zealand squeeze home
New Zealand 180 for 7 (De Grandhomme 55) beat England 166 for 7 (Malan 55, Vince 49) by 14 runs
New Zealand pulled off a remarkable heist to defend 180 in the third T20I at Nelson, as England lost 5 for 10 in 18 balls after needing 42 off 5.2 overs with eight wickets in hand to lose by 14 runs.
After setting a score that looked something like par, primarily thanks to the impetus provided by Colin de Grandhomme's 35-ball 55 in the middle overs, New Zealand's bowlers proved expensive on a small ground, as Dawid Malan and James Vince accelerated through the middle overs to put England in pole position.
But after Eoin Morgan dragged the final ball of Mitchell Santner's spell to deep midwicket, England only managed to hit one boundary in the final five overs of the innings to throw away a winning position and go 2-1 down in the five-match series.
If you were set the task of putting together a game that summed up the international careers of two of England's fringe batsmen, this was it.
Malan and Vince both stood to reap the benefits of a tour that represented a low-stakes opportunity to press their respective claims for England's T20 World Cup squad, and both have put themselves in positions to close games off with substantial scores. In Christchurch, Vince smeared a half-tracker down long-on's throat on 59; at the Cake Tin, Malan was set on 39 when he mistimed one straight to long-off.
And the nearly-men narrative continued here. On 55, Malan whacked a shin-high full toss from Ish Sodhi straight to cow corner with England cruising, before Vince picked out mid-off in the circle on 49 needing to take control of the lower-middle order to see England home after a middle-over wobble.
"Myself, Vincey and Sam Billings have been around the squad for four years waiting for these opportunities and they're few and far between," reflected Malan after the game at Wellington. "That's why I'm a bit disappointed today: if I'd batted for three or four more overs I could have put us in a position to win this game."
And with two games to go in this series it feels like none of those men has really pushed their case. Malan, who could well be rotated out for the final two games of the series, was visibly frustrated after his dismissal. His T20I record is superb, with five fifties in eight innings, but given England's backlog of options at the top of the order, he may well find himself squeezed out by the time the World Cup comes around.
England had started their chase with a bang: Tom Banton was never likely to die wondering on his international debut, and so it proved. His mentor Marcus Trescothick has encouraged him to play straight early in his innings, and he creamed the third ball his faced through the covers for four off Tim Southee as if to hand in his homework.
With that formality out the way, he bludgeoned Lockie Ferguson - with his pace up at 92mph - over midwicket for six over midwicket and then deftly nudged him for four through third man, but an attempted ramp off Blair Tickner proved his undoing, as he was bowled for 18.
England were undeterred, and accelerated well just as the field spread. Malan was put down on 15, as Southee shelled a tough caught-and-bowled chance, but capitalised on Sodhi's wayward start to move through the gears before crunching Jimmy Neesham for six over midwicket and following that with a supreme cover-drive.
But after dinking Santner for four two balls after bringing up his fifty, he slapped Sodhi straight down the throat of Guptill at cow corner.
Vince punished some loose balls from Santner and Tickner, but after Morgan fell and Billings was run out by a sharp piece of work from Colin Munro, he picked out mid-off. Ferguson accounted for Lewis Gregory and Sam Curran in the space of an over, and with an uncharacteristically long tail, England were bust despite a lusty blow over midwicket from Tom Curran as Southee closed out the final over.
After Southee won his first toss of the series, Martin Guptill's 17-ball cameo kickstarted things for New Zealand. He hit three fours off the Curran brothers in the first two overs, before punishing Saqib Mahmood's wayward start by firing boundaries off his first three balls.
But after suffering a harrowing afternoon at the Cake Tin on Sunday, Pat Brown bounced back and showed his poise under pressure to remove Guptill. After an 80mph bouncer that sat up and was swatted away over square leg for four, Brown followed that up with a knuckleball that Guptill failed to read, and skewed up to extra cover where Tom Curran held a good catch running back.
Munro's scratchy series continued as he failed to pick a slower ball, but de Grandhomme - in the No. 4 role he has made his own in the last 12 months - ensured that New Zealand avoided a middle-overs lull by carving Mahmood's second over for 15.
Matt Parkinson struck with his fifth ball on debut, bowling the reverse-slog-sweeping Tim Seifert through his legs, but was surprisingly only afforded two overs on a dry pitch. De Grandhomme picked two Brown slower balls to keep the innings moving in the 13th, while consecutive no-balls from Gregory and a six from the free hit saw New Zealand reached 133 for 3 with six to go, leaving them well set for a push towards 200.
But Tom Curran's change-up accounted for de Grandhomme, who thrashed one straight down Banton's throat at long-on, and none of Ross Taylor, Jimmy Neesham and Santner ever really got set as England's youngsters displayed their full range of variations to concede only 47 from the final 36 balls.
Mahmood was again expensive, leaking eight boundaries as his four overs went for 49, but the Currans were both impressive - both have improved their standing in England's long queue of seam-bowling options on this tour. While England's fielding was much better - Morgan was critical of their sloppiness after they put down five chances in Wellington - they bowled eight wides and two no-balls, which might well have proved the difference.