India vs New Zealand: Sodhi, Santner leave India to relive a night of torment in Nagpur
- The New Zealand spin duo had cast the web in the 2016 T20 World Cup against India and the pair again dominated to hand India an eight-wicket defeat in Sunday’s Group 2 game in Dubai.
Up for a small but riveting recap? In the 2016 T20 World Cup, New Zealand gave two five-match old spinners a free hand against India on a bone-dry Nagpur pitch. The left-arm slow bowler returns match figures of 4-0-11-4, brilliantly complemented by the leg spinner’s 4-0-18-3. Five years later in Dubai, against the same opposition, the same two spinners concede 32 runs in eight overs, removing Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in the process.
New Zealand and spin don’t always make go together in a pace-focused side. But Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi do in this format, specifically on UAE’s slow pitches. Santner didn’t get a game for Chennai Super Kings in this edition of the Indian Premier League. Sodhi doesn’t even have an IPL contract. They still warrant research, and possibly some interesting match-ups, given the Nagpur backdrop. Were there any? You wouldn’t possibly know. And if Sunday’s thrashing was any indication, India didn’t even look like they had Plan A, leave alone Plan B or C.
Where do you even begin? Sharma’s dismissal perhaps where he mistimes a rank long-hop? These balls generally ask to be hit. But Sharma is carrying the confidence of an opener demoted after being overwhelmed by pace seven days ago. Maybe, for a fleeting second, he is taken back to Nagpur where Santner had dropped the ball so short that Luke Ronchi managed to stump him even after a fumble. This time, he tracks back to get the full bat swing but mistimes it.
Let’s now come to Kohli, India's soon-to-be former T20I captain. First ball after the drinks break is not exactly the best time to take on a spinner who is taking the ball away from you. But Kohli advances anyway to a classical flighted but dipping leg-break. Staying on the backfoot could have allowed for some adjustment but Kohli goes for the slog-sweep that ends up being a very catchable top-edge.
For a long time in white-ball cricket India have been living a lie that their batting is not only about Kohli and Sharma. Five years after that debacle where New Zealand shot out India for 79, Sodhi and Santner exposed it again with ruthless precision. It wasn’t a tandem act. Santner was brought in the fourth over, knowing well he could prey on Sharma’s weakness against spin. Dot, single, single, dot, dot and dot and Sharma was straightaway looking for that release shot. Sodhi joined in after Santner had India on the ropes for two overs, looping in those leg-breaks and tempting India’s best batters. The release shots happened. But they fell short of the boundary.
From the fourth over to the 16th, India tried to wriggle their way out of Santner and Sodhi’s web, only to find Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Adam Milne waiting with their pace, seam and variations. There were some attempts to arrest the slide after Santner had finished his quota by the 12th over, conceding just 15 runs in his four overs, but it didn’t yield the expected results. Hardik Pandya stood rooted to his crease while reaching out to Sodhi’s leg-break but only got an outside edge. Rishabh Pant even had to dig out a yorker from Sodhi. It was too late anyway by then. Six or seven runs per over probably don’t cut it against spin in T20Is. Or maybe it’s India’s ego that doesn’t make it acceptable. These are trying times. And introspection isn’t easy after such defeats. But India know where to begin looking. Once is a mistake. Twice is a choice.