Rohit, Rahul shine as India pocket T20I series against New Zealand

India extended their phenomenal bilateral T20I record at home by winning the second T20I against New Zealand in Ranchi by seven wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. This is India’s 11th series victory in the last 12, and their fifth straight win at home.

The series also marks the beginning of India’s preparations for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia, and the hosts ticked a few crucial boxes on Friday, topped by Harshal Patel’s successful international debut.

If Martin Guptill went up and over the straight boundaries in the first innings, KL Rahul played some typically good-looking strokes to lead India’s pursuit of 154. In the second over of the innings bowled by left-arm pacer Trent Boult, he leaned on to a cover-drive, then played a check off-drive to bring the crowd to life. But with Rohit Sharma at the other end, can a trademark pull shot be too far behind? In the fourth over, Sharma joined the action by picking an Adam Milne short ball from outside the off-stump and depositing it into the stands, in front of the square.

New Zealand were back to their full-strength bowling attack that played the World Cup final last week. But surprisingly, none of their seamers went to pace-off deliveries early despite the evidence in the first innings, as India pocketed 45 runs in the first six overs without losing a wicket.

Kiwi spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi managed to build some pressure, forcing India to go for 24 balls without a boundary. But in the 10th over, Sharma undid all their hard work with two huge sixes, once pulling a Santner long hop over deep mid-wicket, before launching into the slightly fuller delivery over cow corner.

That over was all action, as Sharma, going for a third maximum, almost holed out, but Boult put down the catch after covering significant ground. The fielders were struggling to grip the ball on a wet outfield and courtesy that 16-run over that pushed India’s score to 79/0 after the first 10, India were on their way.

Rahul, continuing his rich form, kept finding the boundaries, flat-batting Milne over wide long-off for a six. He dug out yorkers and flicked them elegantly, producing the same result — each of his boundaries resulting in drooping Kiwi shoulders. Rahul 65 (49) and Sharma 55 (36) lost their wickets towards the end but India only had formalities to complete which they managed to achieve in the 18th over.

Early due evens out toss

It was always going to be a wet day in Ranchi. Not that the rain gods came calling in the winter season, but the much-feared effect of dew played out prominently throughout the match. Rohit Sharma called the toss right again, but his bowlers and fielders had to bring the towel out very early. Early dew meant the toss advantage was going to even out.

The ball was expected to skid off the surface and Guptill decided to take his chances. En route his 15-ball 31 that got him past Virat Kohli as T20I’s highest run-scorer, he smashed two sixes and three fours, tagetting the straight boundaries. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar got full marks for getting the ball to swing, but Guptill had all the answers.

He took on Deepak Chahar too, but like in the previous match, the CSK bowler got a wicket soon after being hit for a six. Kumar had hit Guptill on the helmet earlier. Chahar followed up with a smart short ball, which resulted in a mistimed Guptill pull shot, and Rishab Pant was smart enough to complete the catch. But Guptill’s onslaught meant New Zealand snatched the early advantage and raced to 64/1 after the powerplay.

India pulled things back using their spin-twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, who came out bowling smart spells in the middle overs. Struggling to grip the wet ball, both could not afford to give the ball much air but they used other tricks in the book to keep themselves in the game.

While Ashwin resorted to liberal use of carrom balls and high-quality defensive bowling, Patel varied his bowling speeds and lengths enough to make boundaries difficult to come by. The two spinners’ collective figures read 8-45-2.

Impressive debut for Harshal

Harshal Patel announced his arrival in international cricket with, what else, but a slow off-cutter that had given him all the spoils in the last IPL. He got opener Daryll Mitchell (31) to hole out at long-on with the score on 90 in the 11th over. Patel’s run-up is a pretence. All he does is bowl slow, and to his credit, the batters consistently struggle to spot the variation from his release.

The slower he bowls, the quicker he is amongst the wickets. His second wicket too came off a slower ball, one that was dug in short to undo another set batter Glenn Phillips 34 (21) in the 16th over. He bowled the more difficult 19th over of the innings, again rolling his fingers around the ball at the last moment, and got away with a six-run over. With figures of 2-25, it was an impressive debut in front of a packed Ranchi stadium, providing India with a credible T20 bowling option for the future.

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Anjali Singh

Anjali Singh Born on 15 Jun 2001 an Indian author and activist from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. Live in New Delhi