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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

New Zealand self-destruct again to hand India clean sweep

For third time on the bounce, New Zealand lose a contest they should’ve won; India clinch series 5-0.

Written by Vishal Menon | New Delhi | Updated: February 3, 2020 8:26:09 am
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For the third consecutive game, it seemed that New Zealand will get across the line. And for the third consecutive game, they self-destructed to hand a 5-0 series triumph to the Indians.

The home team botched up another chase when it seemed they would coast home. When Ross Taylor and Tim Seifert were putting on their 99-run stand, it looked that the 164-run target would be inadequate. But in the end, the Indians even survived a 34-run over bowled by Shivam Dube to register a seven-run win. New Zealand needed 66 runs in the second half of their chase with seven wickets in hand, a task considered straightforward in contemporary T20 cricket.

Taylor was playing his 100th T20I – the first from his country to reach that landmark – and his family was in attendance on the Bay Oval grass banks to mark the occasion. Though the veteran managed a half-century, he and his family would have been happier if it had come in a winning cause.

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After two matches that went against them in the Super Over, Taylor and Seifert engineered a rescue act from 17/3 but wickets fell at crucial junctures and there was no back-up behind them. Rarely does a team find a way to throw away such positions of strength in three matches in a row. This series has shown New Zealand’s propensity to freeze with victory in sight.

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It was Seifert’s dismissal for a 30-ball 50 in the 12th over that gave India the opening. Even at that stage, the home team had their noses in front, requiring 48 runs from 44 deliveries with six wickets in the shed. But India’s stand-in captain KL Rahul, who was leading with Virat Kohli taking the game off and Rohit Sharma injuring his calf during his half-century, marshalled his bowling resources with a great deal of maturity. In turn, they responded by giving nothing away and exerting pressure on an inexperienced Kiwi middle order.

Bumrah on the mark

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Jasprit Bumrah was again on the mark. He cleaned up Daryl Mitchell with a pinpoint yorker in the subsequent over, while Shardul Thakur got rid of Mitchell Santner and Scott Kuggeleijn in the space of three deliveries. The following over when Navdeep Saini had Taylor caught behind off a wide delivery, New Zealand had slipped from a comfortable 116/3 to a slippery 133/8 in just 4.3 overs. They will look back with regret at another implosion when they just had to do the basics right.

Seifert’s dismissal was the opening, and they seized that initiative, which eventually resulted in a cluster of wickets. This, in essence, was the difference between the two teams. Once India got a sniff, they made a concerted push and never took the foot off the pedal. This attitude underscored the reason why they have now won 8 T20Is overseas on the bounce.

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“Great to be standing here with a 5-0. We have been playing exceptional T20 cricket, to come here and execute our skills every game, to have squeezed out wins, is a confidence-booster. I think it’s a winning habit we have cultivated. The onus is on finding different ways to win,” Rahul said after the win.

Sunday’s meltdown will be a bitter pill for New Zealand to swallow. More than the talent, it’s the temperament to finish off close matches that seems to be missing. But in three consecutive matches, they have finished second best despite being in the contest for a large portion of the match. They failed to get two runs off the last four deliveries of the 3rd T20I in Hamilton, despite having five wickets at their disposal. In the next duel in Wellington, they lost four wickets in the final over of the chase as they failed to score seven runs.

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Consequently, both those matches went down to the Super Over, and New Zealand faltered on both occasions. This prompted New Zealand captain Kane Williamson to lament: “Super Overs aren’t really New Zealand’s friend.” But in reality, neither game should have gone to a Super Over.

The Kiwis didn’t even get that far on Sunday. They had the chase under control, requiring 48 runs off 45 deliveries with seven wickets remaining at one stage — an open-and-shut scenario for most teams in T20Is these days.

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Even from this position of ascendancy, New Zealand found a way to falter. Former England spinner Graeme Swann put it quite aptly at the post-match show on Star Sports when he quipped: “New Zealand have simply forgotten how to win.” The twin Super Over losses seem to have demoralised them to such an extent that it has sapped them off their vigour and insouciance. India’s bowlers and fielders may have performed admirably, but it will not be a stretch to state that New Zealand have played a bigger part in plotting their own downfall.

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