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Monday, November 29, 2021

India vs New Zealand: Cause for optimism

After a disappointing World Cup, Venkatesh & Axar bring hope as India blank NZ 3-0 in T20I series.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Kolkata |
Updated: November 23, 2021 9:10:07 am
Axar Patel took three wickets to ensure New Zealand’s chase never got off the ground. (Source: PTI)

This was a game to take away positives and note down shortcomings. The final game of the three-match T20I series also presented the Indian team management with an opportunity to look into the bench strength. The series was already secured, but the 3-0 clean sweep served as an embellishment apart from shoring up confidence after a poor T20 World Cup.

One of the positives was winning the game batting first. Coming into the game, India’s win rate batting first in T20Is this year was 40 per cent whereas they boasted a 100 per cent win record batting second. Skipper Rohit Sharma yet again won the toss – three on the spin – and “challenged” the batting unit “against challenging conditions”. The Eden Gardens pitch was unusually tacky and India would take heart from the fact that they got to 184/7 despite middle-overs jitters. Then, they dismissed New Zealand for 111 to win by 73 runs.

This was a dead rubber all right, but the country’s most- storied cricket venue was hosting an international fixture after a gap of two years and at 70 per cent capacity, the turnout was expected to be around 47,000. It was a sold-out game and like the team management, the fans also enjoyed the cerebral batting of Venkatesh Iyer and the lusty hitting of Deepak Chahar (21 not out off eight balls). They expressed their anguish when the latter dropped a skier to offer Martin Guptill a reprieve and cheered Rishabh Pant’s spectacular diving catch to dismiss Jimmy Neesham.

In the grand scheme of things, Dravid and company would be happy with the way Iyer has taken to international cricket. After a 69-run opening wicket partnership in 6.2 overs in which Rohit contributed to the bulk of the scoring, the game suddenly changed when Mitchell Santner came into the attack. The left-arm spinner, leading the Kiwis in the absence of Tim Southee, bowled at the right pace and focused on making the ball skid from the outset rather than trying to give it a tweak. Ishan Kishan, KL Rahul’s replacement, played for the turn and was out caught behind. In the same over, Santner floated one outside the off stump, inducing Suryakumar Yadav to go for a drive. The batsman didn’t move his feet much and played it uppishly to Guptill at short extra cover. At the non-striker’s end, Rohit wasn’t happy; there was a big gap on the off side to manoeuvre.

Santner bagged his third by dismissing Pant and when Rohit departed a couple of overs later, India were 103/4 in the 12th over. The arid numbers say that Venkatesh Iyer had a 36-run fifth-wicket partnership with Shreyas Iyer and the left-hander’s contribution was a 15-ball 20. The scoreboard, though, wouldn’t capture Venkatesh’s maturity. Adjusting his stance to counter the low bounce of the pitch stood out. He is a tall man with a natural upright stance. But here he was staying low, especially against Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. Using his reach to hit a six off Sodhi attested smartness. Using his feet to hit a four against Santner was excellent cricket. And when for the first time he bowled in this series, Venkatesh returned with 1/12 from three overs, taking pace off the ball and mixing his deliveries well. Both Rohit and Dravid have spoken about playing the T20Is with an eye to next year’s World Cup in Australia. Venkatesh has given them a good all-round option.

Ticking the boxes

On a surface where Santner created problems for the Indian batsmen, it was no surprise that Axar Patel made an instant impact despite bowling with the new ball inside the Powerplay. True to his style, Axar started off with a fullish, fastish delivery to dismiss Daryl Mitchell. Mark Chapman’s scalp five balls later had a touch of Ravichandran Ashwin, as the senior off-spinner, resting for this game, watched from the dugout. Axar gave the ball a lot more air, preempted Chapman’s charge and dragged it wide outside the off stump. Pant completed a quick stumping. Glenn Phillips fell prey to a poor shot, an attempted reverse sweep to a full ball from Axar. He missed the line and was out bowled. The left-arm spinner finished with 3/9 from three overs and the way he bowled in this series, he has emerged as a pretty decent back-up for Ravindra Jadeja.

Finally, Yuzvendra Chahal got a game and as expected, looked out of rhythm to start with, bowling the wrong line in his first two overs and conceding plenty. But the course correction and Guptill’s (51 off 36 balls) wicket would be counted as another positive.

Fielding was very good as well, through a couple of run-outs and a couple of high catches, braving the evening dew. Santner, after being done in by a superb KIshan throw from the deep, threw his gloves in disgust, on his way to the dressing room.

Wrong shot selection under pressure remains an area of concern for India, confirmed by Pant’s unnecessary slog to a flatter delivery from Santner. The left-hander seemingly carried the frustration of missing out on a long-hop in the previous over.

As for Rohit, his love affair with Eden continued via another half-century, leading to earning the Man of the Series award. A Sodhi stunner cut short his innings on 56, off 31 balls. But a 3-0 series win would certainly offer greater satisfaction.

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