Mahendra Singh Dhoni watched from the 22 yards distance as his heir apparent Rishabh Pant showed spunk in a tricky situation, guiding India to their maiden T20 International victory on New Zealand soil here Friday.
The seven-wicket triumph was set up by skipper Rohit Sharma (50 off 29 balls) in company of Shikhar Dhawan (30, 31 balls) with a 79-run stand after Krunal Pandya got three wickets to restrict the hosts to 158/8.
With his whirlwind fifty, Rohit also became the top run-getter in the format, surpassing Martin Guptill.
“Very pleased to see how we bowled, and we were quite clinical with the bat as well,” Rohit said in the post-match presentation.
Dhoni, the original master finisher, couldn’t have been happier as he saw Pant control what could have been a tricky 159-run chase chase with an unbeaten 40 off 28 balls. The series is now tied 1-1 with the decider in Hamilton on Sunday.
With the former India captain (20 no off 17 balls) playing the role of a mentor at the other end, the 44-run stand was very significant as Indian cricket slowly moves towards a change of guard in coming days.
Pant’s one-handed six off Tim Southee or the bowler’s back drive off Scott Kuggeleijn to finish off the match were reminiscent of Dhoni’s best days. Pant hit four boundaries and a six in all.
Earlier, Rohit’s flicked six off Kuggeleijn over backward square leg was a treat for the eyes but his dismissal along with Vijay Shankar’s did create a bit of unrest. However, Pant ensured that they didn’t press the panic button.
The innings would certainly help him make a strong case for being included in the World Cup squad.
While bowling, Krunal enhanced his already growing reputation as a steady short format bowler with three important breakthroughs as India restricted New Zealand to a below-par 158/8.
“We missed a trick or two with the bat. It was slightly more tricky to bat, but 20 more runs at the death would have been better,” said New Zealand captain Kane Williamson.
The parsimonious Krunal (3/28 in 4 overs) dismissed Colin Munro (12) and skipper Kane Williamson (20) to peg the Black Caps back early in the innings.
In between, Krunal also got the controversial wicket of Daryl Mitchell (1), who fell prey to an umpiring howler, when ‘Hotspot’ showed a clear inside edge onto the pads.
However, Colin de Grandhomme, who has played for KKR in the IPL, then counter-attacked, scoring a blistering 50 off 28 balls, adding 77 runs with Ross Taylor (42 off 36 balls) for the fifth wicket.
Once De Grandhomme was sent back to the dug-out by Hardik Pandya (1/36 in 4 overs) and Taylor was run-out, New Zealand’s chances of a big total went up in smoke.
It was a much-improved performance by the Indian bowlers with Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1/29 in 4 overs) removing Tim Seifert (12) in the very third over with a fuller delivery, inducing an inside edge to Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps.
However, it was Krunal, who really applied the brakes after being brought inside the Powerplay overs.
The elder Pandya quickly found the ideal length, bowling his usual wicket to wicket deliveries with a flatter trajectory.
Both Munro and Williamson got skidders. While the left-handed opener Munro hit one straight to the cover, Williamson was caught plumb in-front.
However, it was the dismissal of Mitchell that once again raised the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ debate even though it was a clear case of an umpiring howler by TV umpire Shaun Haig.
Krunal angled one into Mitchell, who got an inside edge onto the pads. The on-field umpire adjudged him leg before and he promptly asked for DRS.
As the giant screen showed that a faint edge could be detected by Hotspot, to everyone’s dismay, TV umpire Shaun Haig pressed the red button to signal out.
After that, it was left to India captain Rohit Sharma to call the player back but he didn’t do so.
At 50 for 4, it was De Grandhomme, who took charge as he attacked Yuzvendra Chahal (0/37 in 4 overs), hitting him for a couple of sixes.
When he was just about threatening to take the game away, De Grandhomme smacked one straight to covers in skipper Rohit’s hands.
India bowled 35 dot balls, which could well have been decisive in the final context of the match.
Young Khaleel Ahmed (2/27) polished off two wickets in the end. He and Bhuvneshwar also bowled 18 dot balls between them.