Displaying their renowned fighting spirit, New Zealand tore down the pre-tournament form book by inflicting a humiliating 47-run defeat on title favourites and hosts India at Nagpur’s Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on Tuesday.
Routed for 79 in chase of New Zealand’s modest 126, it was only India’s second defeat in Twenty20 internationals this year.
The first was at Pune against Sri Lanka where the wicket came under the scanner for being too pacer-friendly. In Nagpur, the playing surface was again under the lens. This time the curator seemed to have gone overboard in his attempt to provide the home team the advantage by preparing a turning track.
However, the designs lay exposed when the hunters became the hunted.
It must have been embarrassing for the International Cricket Council president from Nagpur, Shashank Manohar, to see his forces falter for the second straight game. During the last Test match in Nagpur against South Africa, the pitch was a rank turner and was rated ‘poor’ by the ICC.
First of all, New Zealand did well by reading the pitch correctly. Despite assurances that being an ICC event there would be no attempt to favour the home team by preparing a turner, the Kiwis showed that they knew better.
Watch: What’s important is to fight back, says Dhoni after losing WT20 opener
New skipper Kane Williamson included three spinners in his eleven. Left-arm Mitchell Santner, leggie Ish Sodhi and off-spinner Nathan McCullum, who were the wreckers-in-chief with nine wickets between them, will not be automatic choices in some of India’s first-class teams but on this wicket they were almost unplayable, making batsmen like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan look silly.
It was going to be a real test for young captain Williamson. Defending 126 against the Indian batting line-up was considered an impossible task. However, he showed a far wiser head than his 25 years would suggest, marshalling his resources brilliantly to outwit India in their backyard, in conditions tailor-made for them. In the end, the rockstars were left to lick their wounds.
The procession was started by McCullum as Williamson adopted Dhoni’s template and opened with an off-spinner and left-arm pacer. The off-spinner had Shikhar trapped leg before in the first over, but no one had an inkling of what was to come.
Only when Rohit was stumped making a lazy attempt to step out against Santner in the third over of the innings did the alarm bells start ringing. The famous Kiwi fighting spirit was back on show and Suresh Raina was out three balls later to reduce India to 12 for three.
The crowd had lost their voice until at 29 for four, pacer Adam Milne bowled a no-ball and the umpire signalled free-hit. However, it was such a day that even that gift almost cost India a wicket as Kohli pulled straight to Ross Taylor, whose throw at the non-striker’s end had Dhoni struggling to regain his crease. Fortunately for the India captain Milne lost the ball trying to break the stumps. It didn’t make much difference in the end with the efforts of Kohli and Dhoni limited to 23 and 30 respectively.
Only four boundaries and one six were scored in the Indian innings. The loss will also hurt India’s net run rate in the tough group.
Seen as a group of death, a good start was crucial while playing with such a weight of expectations. The pressure will only mount on the home team. Australia are tougher opponents than the Kiwis, and Pakistan and Bangladesh are never easy to tackle.