The past two weeks have seen two men's T20I series completed. In New Zealand, the Blackcaps defeated their Aussie neighbours 3-2, while the Caribbean played host to Sri Lanka, with the Windies taking a 2-1 win. In this article, I review the main events of these series...
New Zealand v Australia-
The first game took place on the 22nd of February, with the five-game series finishing on the 6th of March, after a Covid-induced delay. In the relatively small New Zealand grounds, it proved a scoring series.
In the first game, it was Devon Conway who starred, with the aggressive batter making an unbeaten 99, at a good pace, facing only 59. It was this knock that took New Zealand to 184/5 from their 20 overs.
The target was chaseable, but the disastrous Aussie start, which saw them reduced to 19-4 after the impressive swing bowling of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, meant they had no real chance. Ish Sodhi removed the mid-lower order, with 4-28, as Australia were bowled out for 131, and the hosts went 1-0 up.
The second game was classic t20. Batting first again, New Zealand posted the huge 219-7. Martin Guptill hit eight sixes in a 50 ball 97, before Jimmy Neesham hit six maximums (off some poor bowling), as he finished 45* off 16.
It looked as though the carnage was over though, as despite Matthew Wade and Josh Phillipe making promising starts, Australia were soon 113-6, needing 107 off 42, after Mitch Santner had taken 4-for. Then, it what would have been a miracle, Marcus Stoinis (78 off 37) and Daniel Sams (41 off 15) added 92, nailing nine sixes between them.
But, despite the rate having been brought back under control, with 36 needed off 18, Boult did what he could not to Ben Stokes in the World Cup final, and nailed his death over. He conceded just six runs, and wrestled back the momentum.
When it came to the last, 15 proved just too much, as Neesham, bowling his first over of the night, kept it calm enough with 2-10, for a four run NZ win!
This scoring continued in the third, as Aaron Finch, after a horrific Big Bash, and a poor start to this series, finally got some timing, as he hit 69 off 42, in a stand worth 83 with Phillipe.
Then, it was Maxwell Ball!
The so-called "Big Show" put on one, reversing, and powering, a beautiful 70 off 31, with five sixes to name. It was Maxwell at his best.
It helped Australia post 208-4, as despite another 2 wickets for Sodhi, Neesham went for 60 in four overs!
And it was Neesham who summed up the New Zealanders' nights, as, when he was stumped charging Ashton Agar for a golden duck, NZ were 110-6, having just lost three in an over to Agar! The left-handed all-rounder finished with 6-30, as the blackcaps were dismissed for 144, with the Aussies claiming an easy win. Credit should also go to Riley Meredith, who took two early wickets on debut, to help get Australia on the front foot.
The big shock in the fourth game was that Finch made runs again! The skipper finished 79* off 55, the only 20+ score in Australia's 156/6. The key wicket taker? Sodhi again, with 3-32!
In response, New Zealand never managed a stand of above 25. Maxwell, Agar and Adam Zampa all claimed two wickets, with Finch's knock the key on a challenging pitch.
This meant that the final game would be a decider, with the series currently at 2-2.
Winning the toss, Australia choose to bat, which was a good plan, with no side having won chasing so far in the series.
But despite Wade's 44 from 29, the men in green (it was actually black, but I'm fed up of alternating between Aussies and Australia!), never really got going, and despite the full tosses, could only muster 142-8. Boult and Southee claimed two apiece, with Sodhi the pick (again), with 3-24.
After two pathetic attempts at chasing in games three and four, the hosts would not make the same mistake.
By the time Meredith took the first wicket of Devon Conway, New Zealand needed just 37 from 49: the game was done. Conway's 36 was good, but it was Guptill's 71 (46), and then Phillips' 16 ball 34*, that gave New Zealand an easy 7 wicket win.
The series was won, Australia vanquished. And with 13 wickets at 12.07, Sodhi took player of the series.
West Indies v Sri Lanka- The first WI v SL T20I was a night game, that took place on March the 3rd at the Coolidge Cricket Ground, in Antigua. And I put this simply, it was bananas!
A strong WIndies side restricted a poor Sri Lankan side to 131-9. Honestly, that's all you need to know for the first innings.
Then the chase. This was mental.
Angelo Matthews was to bowl the first, and after a Lendl Simmons single, it was Evin Lewis on strike. His first ball was pushed into the legside. Then, a full ball on the legs went down the ground for six. Next up, a shorter one on the legs, went for six. Matthews then bowled another poor ball, which, you guessed it, went for six.
A hattrick of sixes, in the first over. Sri Lanka hit three in their entire innings, Lewis did it so soon, and so easily.
Akila Dananjaya got the next, and went for eight, of which six came off the last ball, thanks to a a Simmons hit.
Simmons then added two fours and a six off Dushmantha Chameera.
The WIndies were 48-0 from three, and it now got interesting!
Dananjaya got another over, and Lewis hit him for four first ball. But next up, he miscued an attempt at another six, and was caught.
Entering the returning Chris Gayle at three, who had not played in West Indian maroon for a year-and-a-half.
Dananjaya bowls a straight ball, that turns a little away from Gayle. He goes to work it to leg, misses, and is given Not Out.
Sri Lanka review, three reds appear, and Gayle has a golden duck.
Then, it's the turn of Nicholas Pooran. The muscular leftie hits a BIG ball. But not today. Dananjaya bowls length outside off, Pooran pushes, and Pooran edges.
The West Indies are 52-3, and Dananjaya has taken a hat-trick.
The next over sees 23 year-old leggie Wanindu Hasaranga get the ball. He removes Simmons, and with an over to go in the powerplay, the West Indies are slightly rocking at 62-4.
But, as you might have seen, not for long!
Danajaya, having just taken a hat-trick, must be feeling pretty good.
WI skipper Keiron Pollard, with his side wobbling, might be less assured.
But, the West Indies do not do 'less assured'. When in trouble, they hit sixes.
And Pollard, lazily dressed in a cap, his power prepared, the nonchalance oozing, does exactly this. He hits sixes.
The first is a slog down the ground, on one knee. The second a bullet, as though a golfer. Dananjaya goes wide, so he goes off-side. A big heave to leg for number four. Ian Bishop gets excited. Then, audaciously, he goes back, and with no momentum, simply throws his bat under the ball. It sails, beaten. Five. Dananjaya tries around, and goes into his pads. And how he gets the power, I don't know, but he chips it.
The ball has gone over the boundary: the sixth ball of over goes for six, meeting the same fate as the other five.
Pollard became only the third cricketer to hit all six balls of an over for six in international cricket, following in the footsteps of Herschelle Gibbs and Yuvraj Singh.
I've tried to do it justice in my writing, but sometimes, one can only show:
Now, the powerplay is over, with the hosts 98-4.
Hasaranga continues, and gets Pollard, and then Fabian Allen next ball. He does not take a hat-trick, which is odd, given how bloody mental this game has been!
101-6, from seven (SEVEN) overs!
Then, it calms.
Dwayne Bravo finishes 4* off 17, and Jason Holder 29* off 24.
The West Indies win by four wickets, with 6.5 overs left, in one of the oddest cricket games.
In the second game, Danushka Gunathilaka (56) and Pathum Nissanka (37) share an opening stand of 95 in 62 balls. Then, the visitors collapse to 160-6 from their 20.
But, in response, the only West Indian to get going is number 10, Obed McCoy, who makes 23 off 7, as WI are 117 all out.
Hasaranga gets 3-17, and left-arm wrist-spinner Lakshan Sandakan has 3-10, as the WIndies lose their trial by spin.
With the series poised at 1-1, it is a disappointing start to the finale. Sri Lanka are 46-4 from 9.3, and are in danger of proving uncompetitive. But, they recover to 131, with Dinesh Chandimal (54*) and Ashen Bandara (44*), carrying them to a score.
Simmons and Pooran make useful 20s in the reply, but it looks as though, with the leggies taking five wickets between them, the tourists are in the game, especially as Holder attacks only one ball of Hasaranga's last, the 18th over.
But, this is the West Indies. And as Allen launches three sixes off Dananjaya, the hosts get home by four wickets, with an over to spare, to end a mental series!
The WIndies take the win, and Hasaranga is my player of the series, with eight wickets at an average of 5.25, going at only 3.5 an over!
Conclusions- So, that was fun!? Takeaways include, but are not limited to:
-Leg-spin remains the key t20 asset. Batters struggle to pick the sharp turn, and wickets tumble. Expect any side that wants to compete in the World t20 later this year to have a class leggie, but only the best sides have someone who can take down said leggie.
-The WIndies are great to watch. The attitude of knowing they can belt sixes is perfect t20, none of the "hit a boundary and then take one" nonsense. For more on this, have a read of Tim Wigmore, and Freddie Wilde's Cricket 2.0, which should be mandatory reading for all those wanting a crash course in understanding t20 cricket.
-t20 cricket is good fun. My favourite format is, and, for as long as it lasts, will be Test cricket. But t20 cricket is not just "s*** and giggles", as someone once said, It requires a certain skillset, and is, while often odd, always entertaining cricket.