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Sunday, November 28, 2021

IND vs NZ 1st T20I: Rohit Sharma hits the ground running   

India under new captain and coach start with a win, New Zealand go down fighting. 

Written by Abhishek Purohit |
Updated: November 18, 2021 1:58:19 pm
Rohit Sharma, IND vs NZRohit Sharma led by example in his first T20 match as full-time captain with a crucial 48 off 36 balls in the run chase on Wednesday. (PTI)

Rohit Sharma is famously strong on the pull and the hook. He can be a compulsive player of the strokes, and that has at times caused his downfall, notably in Test cricket. Perhaps that is what Trent Boult was targeting when he stuck to a short-pitch length against Indian openers at Jaipur.

It was the fifth over, and Boult’s second, in a chase of 165 in the first of three T20Is. India hadn’t quite run away with it in the first four at 29/0. The two men allowed on the boundary were at fine leg and deep square leg. It was KL Rahul who pulled the first short ball for six over deep square before Rohit came on strike off the third.

And Boult really let the bouncer rip this time; it climbed and kept climbing, taking a sliver off Rohit’s attempted hook and flew over the wicketkeeper for four. The next ball was shortish, and Rohit steered it right between backward point and short third man for four more. As if all these signs weren’t enough, Boult still persisted with the short delivery. Rohit now launched it wide of deep square to make it 21 off the over.

This was when new-ball bowlers from both sides had found swing when they had pitched it up. Boult finally did the same with the last ball of the over, and promptly looped it past Rohit’s bat and into the pad.

But the damage had been done. On a pitch that was taking some serious turn every other delivery, India had flown to a powerplay score of 56/1 on the back of that Boult over. In his first match as full-time India T20I captain, Rohit was on 32 off 18, a strike-rate of 178 as against his overall powerplay tally of 138 in chases. The head start was to prove crucial ultimately. India won the game by 5 wickets despite the late stumble.

Just over a fortnight ago in Dubai, India had been tied down by the New Zealand bowlers in the T20 World Cup. They were remarkably hesitant after being inserted, managing just 35 in the powerplay and stumbling eventually to a total of 110 (Rohit struggled to a run-a-ball 14). The resulting defeat was to dump them out of the tournament in the group stage.

Their next three games were against lesser opposition in Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia alright, but the Indian top order was forced to shed the earlier hesitation. Rohit’s powerplay scores in those three games were 34 off 24, 30 off 16 and 39 off 24.

The latter two were in small chases, though, and India were admittedly chasing again in Jaipur with the benefit of some dew. Of 37 previous night T20s at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, 26 had been won by the chasing side.

Nevertheless, it was important for the new leader to set the tone early in the pursuit – more so given India’s previous outing against the same opposition — and so he did.

Surya takes over

Rohit was to slow down considerably, however, against the spin of Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle. It was after all a surface on which R Ashwin had tossed up a full delivery into half-centurion Mark Chapman, who’d tried to heave it over midwicket, and had had his off stump rattled instead.

By the time Rohit fell for 48 off 36, in some redemption for Boult, Suryakumar Yadav was in flow. He is often a vital presence in such chases on such surfaces for Mumbai Indians in the IPL.

He will loft spinners in trademark style with the turn over extra cover. He can also whip them with power against the turn over midwicket. In the absence of the rested Virat Kohli, he was batting a position higher at No. 3, the spot he is used to coming in at for his franchise.

Arriving in the middle in the last over of the powerplay, he took some risk at the start of the 12th to kick on from 24 off 21. He charged out on the first ball of the over by leg-spinner Astle. He was not close to the pitch, the ball was turning and skidding away from him, but with his momentum, Suryakumar still made a connection good enough to clear long-on. Astle gave in and started bowling short and quick; the over went for 15.

Surya now took on the seamers, playing one of his favoured whips to send the express pace of Lockie Ferguson soaring over the fine leg boundary.

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At 142/2 after 16 overs, India needed just 23 from 24. But a couple of tight overs and Suryakumar’s exit for 62 off 40 — in some more redemption for Boult — meant some anxiety for the middle order.

Shreyas Iyer (5 off 8) succumbed under the pressure and debutant Venkatesh Iyer hit his first delivery in international cricket for four only to fall next ball. But Rishabh Pant (17 off 17) was around to slam Daryl Mitchell over mid-off for the winning boundary to put India 1-0 ahead with two deliveries to spare.

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