The tectonic plates could shift, the ground underneath could crack and the entire world could crumble. But with Mahendra Singh Dhoni around, calmness would still prevail. In the chase of New Zealand’s 158 on Friday at Eden Park in the second T20I, however, India didn’t require his presence. For, the world didn’t come crashing down on them like it did in Hamilton in the first T20I.
In Auckland, India were on top of the challenge through out. By the time Dhoni arrived to the crease, more than half the battle was already won. His protege, Rishabh Pant, was prodding and punching, propelling India towards the finish-line after skipper Rohit Sharma had launched them to a rip-roaring start (and, in the process, becoming the highest run-getter in T20I).
Before Pant ended the match by hammering Scott Kuggeleijn straight down the ground, he was sauntering across the pitch, once involving in a long conversation with Dhoni – they could have well been debating who should finish the match and how. There was no rush in getting the winning runs, yet India won with seven balls and as many wickets remaining.
It was a victory to exorcise the nightmare of Wellington, but it was largely possible due to the bowling performance.
Here are the main talking points from the match:
Krunal’s day out
Many might have expected Krunal Pandya to make way for Kuldeep Yadav in the playing XI after the punishment the Indian bowling unit received in the first T20I. But skipper Sharma decided, despite the risk of criticism, to persist with Krunal – and India would be glad he did.
“I know there will be a lot of talk about Krunal and Kuldeep. Kuldeep has been brilliant for us. It’s just that we want to see the other guys as well, especially in overseas conditions. Having one bad game doesn’t say anything. We need to give them more games to understand what they have in them,” Sharma said at the toss.
And, Krunal reposed his skipper’s faith in him with the second ball he bowled. Colin Munro and Kane Williamson were trying to make sure that New Zealand didn’t slow down after the dismissal of the dangerous Tim Seifert (by Bhuvneshwar Kumar). The all-rounder bowled a straight, quick delivery at Munro, who, unable to find the elevation, struck it straight to Sharma at extra cover. Three balls later, he removed Daryl Mitchell – albeit due to a controversial LBW decision – that helped India rein in the hosts.
Krunal did not bamboozle the Black Caps with turn. But he bowled tight lines that restricted the run-flow and varied his pace with guile, which in turn, produced wickets. The big wicket of Williamson was one such moment. The speed and direction of the wind and the pitch of Auckland was markedly different from Wellington. As he admitted after the match, he adapted well to the surface and the surroundings and reaped the rewards for that.
India’s death bowling
Death bowling was a major letdown for India in Wellington. In the last five overs, New Zealand smashed 55 runs for the loss of three wickets. Even the master of this tricky phase, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, could not arrest the bleed of runs, then. He conceded 47 runs for one wicket, overall, in the match — his worst figures for India in the format.
But, in Auckland, the areas he bowled were exemplary. He avoided the good length: at the start, he exploited the early bounce and movement off the wicket by bowling a tad short that struggled the batters; towards the end, he bowled a medley of yorkers – straight and wide, bouncers and slower balls. Khaleel Ahmed was quick and hard to play as well. He bowled the last over of the innings, picking up two wickets and conceding just five runs. Hardik Pandya chipped in with a good over as well, sticking the ploy of either bowling full and / or wide or taking the pace off the ball.
India, in the last five overs at Auckland, conceded just 37 runs and picked up four wickets, leaving the Black Caps well short.
Pant’s flourish at the end
India’s tweaks and tinkering to bolster their bench strength for the World Cup continued in the second T20I. The promotion of Rishabh Pant to No 3, on Friday, was an experiment that largely succeeded. Captain Sharma’s 29-ball 50, of course, got India to a rollicking start. But Pant – enriched by the experience of the Tests in Australia – paced his innings superbly. He was 13 off 12 and finished at 40 off 28. As a number three is supposed to in T20s, he solidified the innings after the fall of wicket and power-hit the opposition to take the match away.
Pant’s innings in Auckland makes a case for his selection for the World Cup, if there was not enough evidence already. It is a good supplement to the unbeaten 73 he made against England Lions for India A in a List A match. He, at the very least, warrants a place in the squad for the upcoming Australian series in the 50-over-format.