England kept their Twenty20 World Cup hopes alive today by defeating New Zealand in a pulsating encounter that swung one way then the other.
It seemed as though England were firm favourites when captain Jos Buttler, in his 100th T20 international, led from the front with 73 out of a total of 179 for six on a used Gabba pitch, took an outstanding catch and made intelligent use of his attack.
But New Zealand, the outstanding team of the tournament so far, seemed like they were going to repeat their semi-final success over England in last year’s short-form World Cup when Glenn Phillips inspired their reply.
England kept their World Cup hopes alive with a 20-run victory over New Zealand on Tuesday
The result leaves England’s destiny in their own hands ahead of their match with Sri Lanka
A pumped-up Ben Stokes celebrates the key wicket of Kane Williamson at the Gabba
And when Moeen Ali dropped one of the easiest chances you will ever see at this level with Phillips on just 15 of his eventual 62 England’s heads were dropping and they looked like they were tumbling out of the tournament at the earliest possible stage.
But Chris Jordan, on as a sub fielder for Liam Livingstone, took two crucial boundary catches as England held their nerve and the Kiwis fell 21 short of their target on 159 for six.
Now a win for England in their final Super 12 match against Sri Lanka on Saturday should be enough to see them through to the last four unless Australia absolutely thrash Afghanistan on Friday and somehow dramatically improve their net run-rate.
New Zealand did not help themselves by twice giving lives to Buttler, the first of them, unusually for New Zealand, being somewhat controversial.
Alex Hales tees off during his innings of 52 as England started off smoothly in their innings
Jos Buttler plays the reverse sweep during his outstanding innings of 73 in Brisbane
Alex Hales had already hit Tim Southee for a six and two fours in the fifth over before Buttler appeared to have been well caught by a diving Kane Williamson for eight in the sixth.
The New Zealand captain, known as one of the nicest and most sporting men in cricket, seemed to claim the catch but then suggested to the umpires he wasn’t sure.
The officials called for replays which clearly showed the ball bouncing before being pouched by Williamson. It is fair to say had it been David Warner doing the same thing his integrity would have been questioned.
The England captain was soon making New Zealand pay, playing one extraordinary shot when he ramped Lockie Ferguson’s third ball, timed at 92 miles per hour, for six from outside off-stump.
Kane Williamson thought he’d taken the catch to dismiss Buttler but had spilled the ball
Alex Hales can only smile after he is stumped by New Zealand wicketkeeper Devon Conway
Buttler also reverse swept powerfully to hit Ish Sodhi’s leg-spin for four to break a spell of 17 balls without a boundary as Williamson intelligently made use of his spinners, bringing on Mitchell Santner in the power-play as early as the fourth over.
New Zealand desperately needed to see the back of Buttler and they had another chance to do so when he pulled Ferguson on 40 straight to Daryl Mitchell on the mid-wicket boundary only to see him drop a ball that seemed to swerve a little late.
By then Hales had gone to 50 off 39 balls in what was his best innings of the World Cup so far but he was to fall next ball stumped off what should have been called a wide from Santner.
England’s much better start gave them the opportunity to change their batting order and firstly Moeen Ali, batting at three for England in a Twenty20 international for only the second time in seven years, and then Liam Livingstone were promoted to accelerate.
Mitchell Santner celebrates dismissing Alex Hales to check England’s encouraging start
Jos Buttler sinks to his knees after he is run out by Tim Southee having made a score of 73
But it was Buttler who made most of the running for England, pulling Ferguson for four with a virtual tennis stroke and clubbing a slower ball from Trent Boult for six.
Buttler was finally out for 73 off 47 balls with nine deliveries left and it was left to Sam Curran to smash a six in the last over when Ben Stokes again struggled for fluency after being held back to six behind the big hitters and young Harry Brook.
Dawid Malan, facing just the final ball after being demoted to eight, managed to somehow scramble three with Curran leaving New Zealand what looked like a challenging target.
Buttler handed the ball to Moeen Ali for his first bowl of the tournament in the very first over and he immediately gained appreciable turn and bounce on a Gabba pitch that was staging its third game in 24 hours.
A flying catch by Jos Buttler set the tone for England as Kiwi opener Devon Conway was out
Glenn Phillips wasn’t afraid to hit out during an impressive innings of 62 from 36 balls
It was the start of an imaginative use of his attack by Buttler, who used six bowlers in the first seven overs of the New Zealand innings, including all three of his spinners.
But it was Chris Woakes who made the breakthrough when he claimed Devon Conway thanks to an outstanding diving catch down the legside from Buttler, who just about held with his fingertips.
There was a concern for England when Stokes caught he dangerous Finn Allen and immediately left the field for treatment on the index finger of his left hand, the one that caused him so much trouble when he broke it in the IPL last year.
Stokes returned but it was Moeen who was to suffer a nightmare moment when he dropped a catch that would have been taken on every village green in England..
Kane Williamson hits out as New Zealand attempt to chase down their target of 180
Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes celebrate after taking a wicket as England close in on the win
Phillips was on 15 when he sliced Adil Rashid to cover where Moeen nonchalantly jogged towards the ball and then somehow put it down.
How Phillips would make Moeen pay, hitting poor Rashid for two huge sixes in successive balls and bringing his 50 up off 25 deliveries.
England desperately needed a breakthrough and it came when Buttler threw the ball to Stokes and he responded by sending back Williamson, caught cutting to Rashid at short third man.
It was the spark England needed and it was followed by Mark Wood claiming Jimmy Neesham in a 16th over that cost just three runs. Then Jordan, one of England’s best outfielders, calmly caught Mitchell, England’s nemesis in the semi-final last year as England turned the screw.
Jordan was at it again when he took another boundary catch to send back Phillips in what proved to be the pivotal moment of the whole night.
England’s death bowling was outstanding at exactly the right time and Curran held his nerve to conceded just five of the 26 needed from the final over. Disappointment for New Zealand, who will still probably top this group, but huge delight for England.
ADAM SHERGOLD COVERED THE GAME LIVE FOR SPORTSMAIL – RE-LIVE HOW IT UNFOLDED BELOW