In the first T20 International between India and New Zealand last Friday, a total of 407 runs were scored in just 19 overs. The second match, which was played on the same pitch at Auckland’s Eden Park, was expected to be a similar run-fest, especially considering the small size of the ground. But those expectations tapered off as the two teams got a good look at the surface before the start of Sunday’s game.
The worn-out, dry appearance of the pitch prompted Kane Williamson to bat first after winning the toss. The New Zealand captain’s decision seemed incorrect at that time (more so looking at his counterpart Virat Kohli’s enthusiasm to chase) but in hindsight, it’s hard to fault his move.
Williamsom knew that it was a used wicket, that there won’t be much dew because of the windy conditions, and that his team could build pressure with runs on the board. India eventually won with seven wickets and 15 balls to spare but that wasn’t because they gained some massive advantage by being gifted their preferred option of chasing.
What went against Williamson and New Zealand was quite simply an outstanding bowling performance by their opponents. Had the hosts been allowed to score a little more, the complexion of the second half of the game could have been a lot different.
The high-point for New Zealand in the entire match came in the first over itself, when Martin Guptill managed back-to-back sixes off Shardul Thakur. But from that moment on, it was India’s game all the way.
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah bowled the next two overs, giving away just five runs each to bring the run-rate down. By then, the slow nature of the pitch that Williamson spoke of at the toss was there for all to see. Openers Martin Guptill (33 off 20) and Colin Munro (26 off 25) put on the best partnership (48 runs) of the night for New Zealand, but the duo failed to capitalise and perished playing poor shots. This was a big setback for the hosts as the openers should have stuck around after getting starts on a pitch that was difficult to get used to.
Shami (4-0-22-0) and Bumrah (4-0-21-1) went on to have a night to remember. India’s two premier fast bowlers stuck to their plans to perfection, not offering anything under the bat. The duo bowled a perfect length which wasn’t too full nor too short. It was that in between length that cramped the batsmen and didn’t allow them to free their arms either on the front foot or back.
In fact, this is something the New Zealand bowlers failed to do and paid the price for later on. All the seven sixes that India hit were off either short or over-pitched deliveries. Considering how difficult it is to not leak boundaries on small grounds, the fact the Black Caps could hit only a total of 12 fours and sixes combined off the 120 balls that they faced shows how India’s bowlers took full advantage of the dry pitch.
Jadeja steals the show
The best bowling performance, though, came from Ravindra Jadeja, who probably should have been declared the player of the match. The left-arm spinner came into the attack only in the 11th over but was effective immediately. He removed the dangerous Colin de Grandhomme in his first over and got the all-important wicket of Williamson in his second. New Zealand’s score was 81/4 in 12.3 overs at that time and a strong finish seemed well out of sight.
Jadeja stuck to his natural, quick speed right through his spell of 2/18 from four overs. The nature of the pitch made his deliveries grip even better and the New Zealand batsmen simply couldn’t find the middle of the bat. Jadeja wasn’t hit for a single four or six in his entire spell.
He was supported well by Yuzvendra Chahal, who didn’t get any wicket on the night but did well to not get hit. The leg-spinner doesn’t bowl at the same pace as Jadeja and couldn’t exploit the two-paced nature of the pitch to the same effect, but he varied his flight and length wonderfully to finish with 0/33 from his four overs.
“I think we had another good performance today, especially with the ball,” said Kohli after the match. “The bowlers stood up and took control of what we wanted to do out there. The ball gripped for the spinners and I think Jadeja was outstanding, Chahal was a banker, Bumrah was amazing as well, and Shami, Shardul and Shivam (Dube) made very good contributions.”
The one big concern in the bowling department for India is Thakur. The right-arm pacer is in the middle of a forgettable run of form with the ball. In the only One-Day International he played against Australia recently (at his home ground in Mumbai), he was taken to the cleaners and had figures of 0/43 in five overs. In the first T20I in the ongoing tour of New Zealand, he finished with 1/44 in three overs. And on Sunday, too, he was the least economical Indian bowlers and returned with 1/21 in the two overs he was given. Navdeep Saini replacing him in the next game won’t come as a surprise.
Apart from that, though, India’s bowling unit can be mighty proud of its effort on Sunday. With the T20 World Cup fast approaching and each game in the lead-up being critical, nothing will give Kohli more confidence than seeing bowlers consistently set up victories in such a manner.