Guptill stars as Black Caps hold off 'surreal' Australian fightback

Dylan Cleaver, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Feb 2021, 6:13pm
Martin Guptill leaves the field out for 97. Photo / Photosport
Martin Guptill leaves the field out for 97. Photo / Photosport

Guptill stars as Black Caps hold off 'surreal' Australian fightback

Dylan Cleaver, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Feb 2021, 6:13pm

New Zealand scored a lot of runs in their second T20I against Australia today. It very nearly wasn't enough.

With Australia needing 15 off the last over chasing a massive 220 to win and the destructive Marcus Stoinis and Daniel Sams at the crease, Jimmy Neesham had both dismissed caught on the boundary as the visitors came within five runs of pulling off a ridiculous win.

In front of a sold out, near delirious and well-lubricated crowd of students and locals alike, Stoinis launched a six off the fourth ball leaving himself nine off two. The next one was in the slot but he just missed his mark, with Tim Southee settling under the skier to send the crowd home happy regardless of what happened off the final ball.

How it got to that point was tricky to describe without moving into the realm of the surreal.

Cruising to victory with Australia 113-6 after 13 overs, New Zealand's attack suffered a collective meltdown as Stoinis and Sams started in top gear and moved quickly to overdrive.

We've seen a version of this movie four years ago, when Stoinis took Australia from 67-6 in an ODI at Eden Park to 280 all out chasing 289 with a staggering 146 not out.

He was close to the main act again today, but bowed to another big-hitting batsman with a point to prove.

Yes, Martin Guptill is back.

The 34-year-old opener used the occasion of the first T20I to be hosted at Dunedin's University Oval to announce that he's far from a spent force in the most dynamic form of the game.

Guptill scored 97 from just 50 balls in leading his team to 219. In doing so he struck eight sixes, taking him to 132 in T20Is, passing India's Rohit Sharma (127).

He was just inches from bringing up his third T20I century, being caught on the long off boundary when attempting his ninth six.

After a lean summer that extended to his form for Auckland in the Super Smash, Guptill had seen his stock on the T20 circuit fall.

He came into this match with perhaps as much pressure on his white-ball status as there ever has been. What he delivered was a wide-open window to his immense talent.

The first ball from Sams was overpitched and punched through the covers for four. Nothing too special about that except it was exactly the sort of ball – right in the Guptill wheelhouse – that he skewed straight into the hands of gully at Hagley Oval.

Instead this wee spark lit a fuse that ignited a series of lofted check-drives that nobody plays with such restrained power as Guptill. Once he got a few of those away he extended the arms, akin to a golfer at the range going from hitting a bunch of punched wedges to pulling out the driver from the bag.

He reached 50 – his first at T20I level for 16 months – when New Zealand had 59 in total.

By then he had lost opening partner Tim Seifert but captain Kane Williamson was the perfect foil, feeding his partner the strike before calling on an eclectic range of shots himself as their partnership – already the most prolific historically for New Zealand in this format – passed 100.

It was finally ended at 131 in just 11.3 overs of work.

"It was nice to get a few runs but it was nicer to get another win and go 2-0 up," Guptill said. "Things haven't quite gone my way lately but it was nice to spend a bit of time in the middle."

Williamson was in vintage form himself, mixing three sixes and two fours into a fine 53 from 35 balls before being deceived by Adam Zampa.

Neesham only enhanced his reputation as a pinch hitter, being promoted to No 4 and smashing half a dozen sixes – three off the first three balls he faced – on his way to 45 off 16 balls.

He was the critical factor in New Zealand setting Australia an imposing target of 220, a figure not as imposing as it sounds given the oval's postage-stamp size boundaries.

Matthew Wade looked like he was in the mood before slicing Tim Southee to mid-off. That put pressure on the out-of-form Aaron Finch to deliver. Unlike Guptill he couldn't deliver, holing out off Ish Sodhi after a painstaking 12.

Josh Philippe (45 from 32) was in good touch, but Australia should have rolled over when in the space of four Mitchell Santner balls when he took three wickets, including Ashton Agar and Mitchell Marsh for golden ducks.

Enter Sams to join Stoinis.

When the spotlight is shined on the Black Caps' near collapse, as it will be, it will first fall on Kyle Jamieson.

The man with the $3 million IPL contract bowled like he had the weight of world's expectations on his shoulders, conceding 56 from his four overs and letting a ball go under his hands for four at third man.

His entrée into international cricket has been spectacular, but T20 is a format he is, on the evidence of his first season, some way from mastering.

Close behind him will be Tim Southee, or perhaps the leadership team. He was brilliant again at the top of the innings, but how much evidence is required before his inability to stem the tide in the death overs becomes established fact?

His 1-7 off two overs became 1-47 off four.

The two skippers preferred to look at the quality of the men wielding the sticks, which is fair enough.

"It was a great extraordinary hitting; Gup in the first innings as well," Finch said.

"It was an incredible partnership [between Stoinis and Sams] and on these sorts of grounds you have to be on your game because things can change so quickly."

Extraordinary. Incredible.

Sums up the match really.