ENGLAND lost a tight tussle with the New Zealand XI off the final ball of their second Twenty20 warm-up match, despite Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan’s twin half-centuries.
A late fightback with the ball, led by captain Stuart Broad (three for 24), also proved in vain as – with scores level on 170 – number nine Matt Henry hit Jade Dernbach past mid-off to settle the issue by three wickets.
Buttler (51) and Morgan (51 not out) shared an unbroken 77 in Tuesday’s 46- run win over the same opponents at the Cobham Oval – and this time they put on 87 together.
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But their best efforts were not enough as Tom Latham (64) underpinned a run chase which was eventually completed in the nick of time, despite the twist in the tale.
Three wickets fell for four runs – including that of Latham, caught in the legside deep off Broad – yet there was still too much leeway for the tourists to claw back.
Buttler’s second successive half-century came in 30 balls and contained five fours and two sixes.
He fell to a catch at long-on when he tried to club the penultimate delivery of England’s innings for another six off Neil Wagner.
But that gave Morgan the chance to complete his 50 from the last ball, by hitting Wagner for a six over midwicket to add to his six fours from just 28 deliveries.
Alex Hales had mustered only four when he was short of his ground and run out by a direct hit as he tried to scamper a single to square-leg for Michael Lumb.
There was a let-off for number three Luke Wright, who would also have gone run out for nought had left-armer Wagner managed to hit the stumps after cutting off another single into the off-side in his follow-through.
It needed a big over to give England some momentum in powerplay and two leg-side sixes from Lumb and one from Wright off Test seamer Doug Bracewell was just what was required.
The acceleration was interrupted, though, by home captain Andrew Ellis – whose first two overs cost six runs and contained two wickets.
Then Jonny Bairstow, promoted to number four, was pinned lbw on the back foot by Ellis.
Lumb was within five of his 50 when he cut Wagner hard to point and was caught by a juggling Neil Broom.
But that brought together Buttler and Morgan and, with eight overs left, they had plenty of time to reprise Tuesday’s partnership.
The home openers then began ominously and, after the fifth over from Steven Finn cost 20 runs, the first-wicket stand passed 50 in only 35 deliveries.
Samit Patel had Hamish Rutherford caught at long-on and got through his four overs for only 20 runs.
Anton Devcich then swept James Tredwell straight to deep square-leg, but number three Latham soon began to carry the game for the hosts – and by the time he hit England’s off-spinner over midwicket for six to reach his 50 from 29 balls, the New Zealand XI were obvious favourites.
The captain tried all he could, including a one-handed catch to see off danger man Colin Munro for only four.
But Finn recorded identically unimpressive figures to Tredwell and even the late drama could not prevent England heading for the start of the Twenty20 series against New Zealand on the back of a defeat.