Back-up quicks strangle Black Caps in timely World Cup reminder as Aussies clinch series sweep in 10-over shootout

Australia’s selectors have plenty to consider heading into this year’s T20 World Cup, after nominal back-up fast bowlers Nathan Ellis and Spencer Johnson suffocated New Zealand in a rain-affected third match in Auckland.

With the weather restricting the Black Caps to a 10-over chase of 126 for victory, and with frontline options Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood rested, Johnson and Ellis could scarcely have been more impressive as the hosts managed just 47 from the final five overs of their innings to lose by 27 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern system.

While he didn’t take a wicket in his two overs, Ellis conceded a miserly 11 runs as he repeatedly nailed his yorkers to frustrate Glenn Phillips, sending down four priceless dot balls in a row as his first over conceded only five.

Johnson, meanwhile, found prodigious swing and bounce on a surface with plenty of life for the quicks, not conceding more than two runs off any ball – save for a screaming delivery which cut Phillips in half and swung prodigiously past a diving Matthew Wade for four byes.

Together, the pair gave up just 21 runs from their four overs, confirming Australia’s envious pace-bowling depth in short-ball cricket, and ensuring the decision of whether to stick with the Cummins-Hazlewood-Mitchell Starc combination that proved so effective in the 2021 T20 World Cup won’t be an easy one.

Player of the match honours, though, fell to Matt Short, whose dazzling 11-ball 27 coming in at number three in the order ensured Australia made the most of a rain-interrupted innings after being sent in by New Zealand.

Short is another outsider looking to break into a largely established Australian limited-overs set-up, and having primarily been used as a finisher in recent matches, the star Adelaide Strikers opener relished the chance to move further up the order.

Clipping a six off Trent Boult over the short mid-wicket boundary off just his second ball, then dispatching the pace of Adam Milne for two more back-to-back, Short’s innings was always going to be crucial given drizzly conditions in Auckland made it clear a completed match was unlikely.

Back-to-back sixes from Matt Short! ????

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— Fox Cricket (@FoxCricket) February 25, 2024

He’d have less luck with the ball, though, hit for 33 off his two overs – including an 18-run first over featuring two monster sixes – though he did take the key early wicket of New Zealand opener Will Young, caught well by Adam Zampa at short third man.

While Johnson, Ellis and Short all starred, less impressive was Steve Smith; once again opening the batting with David Warner rested, a first-ball four would be his one impact on the match, edging Milne behind for just 4 to throw his spot in the team – or even the squad – for the World Cup into further jeopardy.

Tim Seifert takes the catch, and New Zealand have an early break-through!

???? Watch #NZvAUS on Ch. 501 or stream via @kayosports:

— Fox Cricket (@FoxCricket) February 25, 2024

With both Short and Glenn Maxwell (20 off nine) firing, a patchy innings from Travis Head (33 off 30) wouldn’t prove costly for the visitors; after starting with three consecutive first-over boundaries off Boult, the left-hander struggled for the fluency he displayed in abundance in Game 2 of the series.

His dismissal – an attempted heave to leg taking a top edge and snaffled at short third man – summed up the South Australian’s innings, but is unlikely to dispel the team’s belief the ODI World Cup player of the final last year is a long-term lock at the top of the order.

There were few highlights for the Black Caps, with several missed chances in the field – including a dropped sitter from Ish Sodhi at short fine leg to spare Head – proving key in letting Australia compile an insurmountable total.

The two teams can now gear up for the first of two Tests beginning on Thursday in Wellington.

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