If you live by the sword, you must also be prepared to die by it. India dished out a square turner to South Africa in Nagpur in a Test match back in November, won the game decisively and shrugged off much of the criticism directed at them. They prepared to replicate the same result by preparing a similar surface against New Zealand in their World Twenty20 opener at the same venue on Tuesday but unfortunately, the tactic came back to bite them.
Rangana Herath, Monty Panesar, Dean Elgar and now Mitchell Santner. The list of left-arm spinners spinning a web over Indian batting’s biggest names continues to grow. And going by India’s capitulation against New Zealand’s spinners at Nagpur, we might even see new additions to the list as the tournament progresses.
But first, it would be wise to sit back and marvel at the sheer mastery of New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. The captain dropped a bombshell at the toss when he announced that he had dropped his three best pace bowlers in favour of playing three spinners. It was a decision which invited ridicule and derision in equal measure. Trent Boult and Tim Southee, in particular had been New Zealand’s top two wicket takers at the 2015 World Cup and though conditions in Nagpur would not have been as favourable for their craft, it was largely felt that New Zealand were not playing to their strengths.
Williamson however has learnt from the best. His predecessor Brendon McCullum brought about a stirring change to 50-over cricket last year, infusing the New Zealand side with a heady mix of aggression and fearlessness which took them to the World Cup finals last year. And Williamson looks like he is on a mission to replicate McCullum’s mantra in the Twenty20 format. His strategy paid off handsomely – the relatively unheralded three-pronged spin attack of Nathan McCullum, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner wreaked havoc on India’s batting stars, bowling them out for their second-lowest score in Twenty20 history.
India’s spin twins outbowled
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have taken a grand total of 506 wickets in all of international cricket. It is rare for this combination, so integral to India’s recent success, to be so thoroughly outbowled in a match but today was that rare day when they were both lacklustre. Ashwin had a criminally bad day – on such a conducive pitch and against opposition not known for being well-versed against spin, he leaked 32 runs off his four overs. Jadeja was a little better, but should have done far better than what his figures of 1/26 suggest.
New Zealand’s spinners gave their Indian seniors an object lesson on where they had gone wrong. Nathan McCullum, never known for his turn, had Shikhar Dhawan out plumb leg-before-wicket in India’s first over to kickstart India’s collapse. Mitchell Santner, someone who Indian cricket fans may never have even heard of till now, got one to rip past Rohit Sharma and leave him stranded. But the coup de grace arrived from their young leg-spinner Ish Sodhi who lured India’s last hope Virat Kohli into a drive outside off, only for him to edge it behind. India’s much-vaunted batting line-up crumbled as one by one, they all trooped back to the pavilion leaving the Kiwis to savour a win nobody expected.
A word to the wise though: it would be unfair to read too much into India’s abject display today. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men have been in a rich vein of form recently and one bad performance should not be the catalyst to consign their past success to the dustbin. Despite the result, this remains a dangerous Indian side which is more than capable of providing a befitting reply when they take on Pakistan next in Kolkata on Saturday.
Final score: New Zealand (126/7 in 20 overs) beat India (79 all out in 18.1 overs) by 47 runs.