It’s a T20 World Cup year, and India seemed to be auditioning for it in a 50-over contest on Saturday. What else could explain the tearing hurry shown by several of the batsmen when the target — 274 — hardly warranted such a gung-ho approach!
Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav and Shreyas Iyer would look back at their shot selection when a more circumspect approach was the need of the hour. If one or more of them had taken upon themselves the task of seeing the team through, the 22-run difference between the sides could well have been breached and everyone would be going to Mount Maunganui with the series still up for grabs. With no Rohit Sharma for support, Virat Kohli was always the big wicket for the Kiwis and once Tim Southee got through the defence of the Indian captain with some canny planning and precise execution, it was always an uphill task for the visitors. That the match at Eden Park was in the balance till the penultimate over was largely due to the efforts of Ravindra Jadeja, who fancies the Black Caps attack (remember the World Cup semifinal), and an entirely unexpected source.
At 153/7 at the start of the 32nd over, with more than 120 runs to get, India could well have gone down by more than a 100 runs. All the specialist batsmen had gone back and even Jadeja was finding it difficult to hit the ball off the square. Navdeep Saini’s first few balls,too, didn’t inspire much confidence as he played and missed often and went for frequent wild swings. But the Delhi youngster, who has caught the eye with his raw pace, seemed to either miss the ball completely or make a clean connection. He gradually started to gain in confidence and Jadeja, who had thought about farming the strike at one stage, started trusting Saini more as the partnership grew in substance. When the asking rate, which was never a concern for most of the chase, got up to nine and tens, it was the junior partner who took a chance. A slashed six over point brought the Indian dressing room to life, but it were three boundaries in one Colin de Grandhomme over that took the cake. A hit over long-off was followed by a glide for four between point and short-third man. The piece de resistance was Saini getting down on one knee and scooping the ball past short fine-leg. He hit another audacious shot into the terraces before impetuosity got the better of him.
The New Zealand seamers got useful movement in the evening and exposed a few Indian techniques. The openers – Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw – were dismissed as they failed to show the required discipline. Kohli went in a way reminiscent of the 2018 Cape Town Test dismissal to Vernon Philander. Southee took him across his stumps with away-going deliveries with a packed off-side field, before finding the gap between bat and pad with a cross-seamer as the skipper tried his trademark flick. Southee, who has had a tour to forget so far, was far from fully fit and only played as Mitchell Santner was even worse off, gave a lion-hearted performance for his team.
That the hosts reached 273 was a minor miracle in itself. Martin Guptill came to the party for once and New Zealand were well placed at 142/1 in the 27th over before a collapse – which otherwise would have been match-defining – left them at 197/8. Ross Taylor was holding fort when an unknown tall debutant by the name of Kyle Jamieson joined him.
The youngster gave the veteran valuable support before getting expansive at the end overs – a six over long-off against none other than Jasprit Bumrah catching the eye. The 76-run stand in 51 balls got the Kiwis to what was a reasonable score. Jamieson then made it a debut to remember by hitting the top of Shaw’s middle stump in his first over and getting rid of Saini. He and the other bowlers ensured that the target remained just outside India’s grasp.
Brief scores: NZ 273 for 8 (Guptill 79, Taylor 73*, Jadeja 1-35) beat India (Jadeja 55, Iyer 52, Saini 45, Southee 2-41) by 22 runs
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