On a cool winter evening in MS Dhoni’s den, with the great man watching on from the stands in Ranchi, Hardik Pandya’s India finished second best, falling to New Zealand’s spin trio led by captain Mitchell Santner (4-1-11-2) in the first of the three-match T20I series on Friday.
Chasing 177 was always going to be a stiff task on a pitch that was taking sharp turn. Arshdeep Singh’s profligate bowling and the inability of India’s new-look top order to kick on against spin is something the home side is left to chew on after their 21-run defeat.
Pandya called the toss right and choose to chase on expected lines, to avoid the dew disadvantage. In the fifth over of India’s bowling powerplay, Washington Sundar was letting the ball rip as if he was auditioning for a Test place. Three successive balls – spin and bounce, play and miss and subtle changes in length, played with left-handed Mark Chapman’s brain after which Washington beat him in the air to take a flying return catch. Earlier in the same over, the off-spinner showed heart by flighting the ball to Finn Allen despite being hit for a six on the previous ball and the right-hander obliged by holing at deep mid-wicket after making 35.
That two-wicket over by Washington made it amply clear, it was going to be a day for spin. After New Zealand had raced away to 37/0 in four overs, India changed strategy by employing a lot of spin and Hardik Pandya switched to cutters to check the scoring rate. Between Washington (4-0-22-2), Kuldeep (4-0-20-1) and Deepak Hooda (2-0-14-0) India conceded only 56 runs in ten overs, getting three wickets in the process.
Kuldeep being preferred over his spin-partner Yuzvendra Chahal may have had a lot to do with the presence of four left-handers in the opposing batting order. He rose to the occasion by playing his part with regular use of googlies and one of them was good enough to fox Glenn Phillips (17).
All Kiwi batters, bar Davon Conway, weren’t able to get going against the spinners. The in-form Conway though was able to summon his sweeps – both conventional and reverse against spin – to race to his half century in 31 balls.
Arshdeep’s poor final over
At 123/3 after 16 overs, New Zealand’s chance to raise the run-rate came in the death overs with India switching to pacers. Conway couldn’t do much damage but Daryl Mitchell had been quietly waiting at the other end for the right match-ups. He began chancing his arm and it all came together in the final over to Arshdeep Singh’s dismay.
The left-armer began the first ball of the final over with a no-ball. Not only did Mitchell hit that ball beyond the ropes over long-on, he followed it up with two more back-to-back sixes using the depth of the crease – one over square leg, another over the bowler’s head. Mitchell finished on 59* (30, 3×4, 5×6) and that 27-run over undid a lot of the good work done by India’s bowling unit; another example of the fine margins of the format. It was a poor over, an ill-timed no-ball, as it was shown again, can change the momentum of the match. Arshdeep Singh has been guilty, far too often of late.
NZ spinners on top
Even though the visitors had the spinners to use the turn on offer, Santner knew the dangers of dew. He decided to use spin early, as early as the second over. Off-spinner Michael Bracewell got one to spin past Ishan Kishan’s (4) blade to take his off-stump. Soon, Rahul Tripathi fell without scoring to Jacob Duffy’s swing, Shubman Gill (7) was left flummoxed by the biggest spinning ball of the day from Santner and India were no match to the visitors after the powerplay – 33/3.
That brought on India’s captain and vice-captain on the crease. Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav lifted India with a 51-ball 68-run partnership against the turning ball and scoreboard pressure. Yadav was on a sweeping spree against spin and playing characteristic horizontal shots against pace kept India in the hunt. Until, an error in judgement saw him dismissed on 47 to a soft dismissal, chipping one straight to wide long-on off Ish Sodhi. Pandya (21) soon followed him in the dugout in the next over, pegging India back in the run-chase at 89/5 in the 13th over. Washington’s valiant 50 (28) was also not going to be enough.