NEW ZEALAND VS ENGLAND, 4TH T20I
Morgan and Malan shattered England’s T20I records with a 182-run stand. ©Getty
What words do it justice? What words adequately sum up what Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan did to New Zealand’s bowlers on a record breaking evening at McLean Park in Napier? Carnage? Decimation? Destruction? Havoc? All of them feel appropriate.
First the raw statistics and the records: England’s 241 is their highest ever total in T20I cricket. Malan’s hundred is just the second ever scored by an England player and, coming from 48 deliveries, was twelve balls quicker than Alex Hales’ against Sri Lanka in 2014. Eoin Morgan’s 21-ball 50 is their fastest half-century in the format. The partnership between the two of 182 is England’s highest in T20I cricket. There were 14 sixes and 21 boundaries in all.
The evolution of T20 cricket has made feats that would have seemed remarkable twenty years ago seem run of the mill now. Malan’s hundred was, for instance, 18 balls slower than Chris Gayle’s 30-delivery effort for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013. 14 men have scored quicker T20I tons. England’s total was only the 14th highest in international T20 cricket. But make no mistake, this was high-class brutality and belligerence.
It was also a performance all the more impressive given England’s pedestrian start. They had just 18 off four overs as Tom Banton and Jonny Bairstow initially struggled to get a handle on a pitch which Bairstow admitted was slower and with less bounce than they had expected. But once Malan, batting at three in this match after opening in all the previous games, and Morgan got going, they caught up pretty quickly. Caught up and some.
Malan’s hundred was the defining innings he needed on this trip. He made a half-century in the previous game in Nelson but needed more than that given the competition at the top of England’s order in limited overs cricket. This was some statement indeed. He now has five half-centuries and a ton from just nine T20Is, averaging 57.25 with a strike-rate of 156. It is hard to see how England can leave him out in this format even when the likes of Jos Buttler and Jason Roy return.
Morgan has no such need to prove himself of course but this was also his highest T20I score and a classic of the captain’s genre. Aggressive from the get-go, he hit his fourth ball for six and kept his foot down after that. Following the previous two games which England lost, Morgan’s mantra didn’t change. He wanted his team to remain positive. Learn their lessons, yes, particularly after the third game when they collapsed in a heap chasing, but continue to take the positive option. And as he has so often, he then went out and lived it.
The short square boundaries at McLean Park were understandably targeted. Both Morgan and Malan moved across their stumps regularly to swat the ball into the leg-side stands. That was their most productive area but they also hit straight – four sixes came down the ground – and Malan was particularly impressive on the reverse-sweep. This was 360 hitting at its very best and New Zealand couldn’t live with it. You could have been forgiven for thinking the last five overs of England’s innings was a highlights reel as 85 runs arrived in a blaze of sixes and fours.
Given the consistency of the hitting, simply picking just one shot of the day is a fool’s errand. Malan’s drive up and over extra cover for a one bounce four off Tickner was the best classical stroke of the evening. Morgan’s inside out six over cover off the spin of Mitchell Santner was the best use of the wrists. Any of three of the captain’s sixes off Daryl Mitchell in the penultimate over can claim to be the most powerful while Malan’s reverse sweep off a wide delivery outside off from Sodhi was the most innovative. Banton’s pull shot off Tickner in the sixth over wasn’t half bad either.
As well as Malan and Morgan played, however, the home side’s bowlers didn’t help themselves. Morgan was dismissed twice from waist-high full tosses which were called no-balls. Disappointingly for the home side, they weren’t the only full bungers dished out and there were a number of others directed down the leg-side or well wide of off-stump. Gimme balls on a pitch which was hard enough to bowl on as it was. Blair Tickner, economical in the previous game, bowled in the slot far too often and got smashed. With the short square boundaries, Ish Sodhi was on a hiding to nothing.
After Malan’s innings tonight, Morgan and coach Chris Silverwood have an interesting choice to make over England’s first-choice batting order in this format. Buttler and Roy will be certain starters in next year’s T20I World Cup and Bairstow has been one of the best short format openers in the world over the past year. Then there is Malan, Morgan, Joe Root, James Vince and Banton. There are more candidates than spaces, particularly if Buttler remains at the top of the order, where he has batted in the last five T20Is he has played.
On current form and recent T20 pedigree, a top order of Roy, Bairstow, Buttler, Malan and Morgan looks England’s best but that would mean either Morgan or Malan batting at five. As they proved today, both can certainly do the job of finishing off an innings in style but Malan has never batted lower than three for England in T20 cricket and Morgan has batted just twice outside the top four – once at five and once at six – in the last three years. As the old adage goes, this sort of competition for places is a good problem to have.
For now though, England will be focused on winning the series on Sunday in Auckland if the weather plays ball. Given the number of first choice players they have rested for this trip, that would be an excellent achievement. And even if they don’t win the series, after a remarkable evening in Napier, they will at least take a few records along with them.