Lea Tahuhu, in a slightly surprising all-round role, and the bowling unit starred for the home side as India went down by 18 runs against New Zealand in the one-off T20 International in Queenstown on Wednesday.

Senior opener and vice-captain Smriti Mandhana did not play and her absence was felt badly as India fell short by 18 runs while chasing 156 for a win.

Yastika Bhatia, who opened in place of Mandhana along with Shafali Verma, did reasonably well with a run-a-ball 26 (2x4; 1x6) but India never looked like they could chase down the target against an efficient New Zealand bowling attack. The frequent fall of wickets made it difficult to keep the required run-rate in check.

The opening stand was worth 41 runs in 6.3 overs and that was the highest partnership for India.

Later on, the players who attended the press conference said Mandhana, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh are in MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) as mandated by New Zealand government, without divulging further details.

Shafali was not at her best as she contributed 13 runs from 14 balls with the help of two boundaries. Captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who made 12 from 13 balls, was dismissed just as she seemed to get her timing right.

The onus was then on the middle and lower order to give a push for the target. Sabbhineni Meghana, who top-scored for India on her return to international cricket after nearly six years, did well with a 30-ball 37, which had six fours in it, stitching 34 runs with Richa Gosh (12) for the fourth wicket.

That stand was the last flicker of hope for India and once Meghana was out, there was a batting collapse and the visiting side could only reach 137 for 8 in their allotted 20 overs. When Meghana was out, India needed 55 runs from 5.1 overs which proved a tough ask.

Jess Kerr, Amelia Kerr and Hayley Jensen took two wickets apiece for New Zealand, while Tahuhu and Sophie Devine got one each. Spinner Amelia Kerr, on her return to international cricket after a mental health break, threw a spanner in India’s chase with two wickets in one over, dismissing both the openers. Jess Kerr then produced a peach of an inswinger to dismiss captain Harmanpreet.

Earlier, experienced all-rounder Deepti Sharma and Pooja Vastrakar picked up two wickets apiece to help India restrict New Zealand to 155 for 5 after Harmanpreet opted to field. Vastrakar was tidy with her medium pace as she conceded just 16 runs from her four overs, while Sharma gave away 26 runs from her four overs of off-spin.

Senior left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad conceded 39 runs for one wicket in her four overs.

For New Zealand, captain Sophie Devine (31 off 23 balls) and her opening partner Suzie Bates (36 off 34) scored the bulk of the runs. The duo gave the home side a flying start, stitching 60 runs for the opening wicket.

Simran Dil Bahadur dropped Devine off her own bowling off her first ball in the second over of the New Zealand innings and that proved costly for the visiting side. Devine was on 1 at the time.

The New Zealand captain celebrated the reprieve by hitting Simran for two sixes in the fifth over as the home side took 20 runs from that over. The Indian bowlers took wickets at regular intervals but failed to stop the hosts from crossing the 150-run mark.

The real damage was caused at the death as Tahuhu played a blinder of a cameo batting at No 5. She carried on her good domestic form into the international circuit, having worked on her batting in recent times. Her 14-ball 27 proved to be a game-changer, taking NZ from what would have been a par total to a match-winning one. She was also supported with boundaries from Maddy Green and Katey Martin.

The two sides will begin their five-match ODI contest at the same venue (all five matches start at 3.30 am) on Saturday.

(With PTI inputs)