Harshal, openers sparkle as India pocket T20I series

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India 155 for 3 (Rahul 65, Rohit 55, Southee 3-16) beat New Zealand 153 for 6 (Phillips 34, Mitchell 31, Harshal 2-25, Ashwin 1-19) by seven wickets

A 117-run stand between KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma topped off a superb team effort with the ball in dewy conditions as India wrapped up victory in the T20I series against New Zealand with one match still remaining. Both openers made half-centuries during which their calculated risks came off at just the right times to ensure that a potentially tricky chase proved more or less straightforward, even if there was a minor blip towards the end with three wickets falling for the addition of 20 runs.
Having won their second straight toss – Rohit has so far proven markedly better at this skill than his predecessor Virat Kohli – India didn’t get off to the best of starts, with Martin Guptill clattering 31 off 15 as New Zealand dominated their powerplay. But the bowlers, led by R Ashwin and the debutant Harshal Patel, pulled things back magnificently, and the openers laid the perfect platform for a chase that India eventually wrapped up with 16 balls to spare.

Guptill tees off

Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a terrific first over by most measures, going full, finding swing, and causing Guptill all sorts of bother. But it ended with Bhuvneshwar wicketless and Guptill on 14 off 6, having hit three fours – none of which came off the true middle of the bat – and having been dropped once, by Rahul running back from mid-on.

The swing dissipated, and the runs kept flowing, with the dew – which set in even before the match began – seemingly causing the ball to hurry onto the bat and allow both openers to hit fluently through the line. Guptill did the bulk of the hitting, and had already hit two vintage straight sixes before Deepak Chahar dismissed him with a well-directed short ball in the fifth over. For the second match in a row, he had dismissed Guptill immediately after being hit for six. New Zealand at that point were 48 for 1 in 4.2 overs.

The slowdown

Mark Chapman found the boundary twice before the powerplay ended, and at 64 for 1, New Zealand looked on course for 180 or more. But a combination of superb bowling, a pitch that turned out to be less of a belter than it had initially seemed, and a batting line-up that couldn’t quite come to grips with either ensured they ended up well short.

As he has been in every match since his comeback to India’s white-ball set-up, Ashwin was imperious, varying pace, trajectory, line and release expertly to ensure the ball never quite arrived where the batter wanted it, or in the way that he wanted it to. And once again, his range of angles and variations allowed him to make a mockery of theoretical match-ups. By the end of his four overs – which he ended with figures of 1 for 19 – he had bowled 71 balls to right-hand batters since his T20I comeback, while conceding just 51 runs and zero boundaries.

Harshal’s slower ball, meanwhile, proved just as effective on international debut as it had done through his record-breaking 2021 IPL season, in conjunction with the long boundaries at the JSCA Stadium. He conceded just 25 in his four overs, and took the wickets of Mitchell and Glenn Phillips, both caught in the deep.

Post-powerplay, New Zealand only scored 89 at 6.36 per over, with Mitchell, Chapman, Tim Seifert and James Neesham combining to score 36 off 51 after the fields spread out. That New Zealand ended up with 153 was largely down to the fast hands of Phillips, who hit three sixes in scoring 34 off 21.

The calm, the storm

The target didn’t demand that India explode off the blocks, and that allowed Rahul and Rohit to ease their way into their innings. Rahul took the bulk of the strike in the powerplay – 26 balls to Rohit’s 10 – and moved smoothly to 32 in that time, timing the ball quite exquisitely on occasion – a drive past mid-off and a flat six over extra-cover, both off Trent Boult, were particularly easy on the eye.

At the 6-over mark, India were 45 for no loss, and the next three overs – bowled by Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner – brought no boundaries. In the first T20I, Suryakumar Yadav had taken control of his match-up against Todd Astle’s legspin, allowing Rohit to bat at a relaxed tempo against spin after a rollicking start against the quicks; now, with neither Rohit nor Rahul particularly renowned for going after spin in the middle overs, there was potential for anxiety to creep into India’s innings despite the required rate being under control.

Rohit put any such anxiety to bed by taking on Santner in the 10th over. Premeditating for Santner’s stock ball – sliding in from back of a length with the angle from left-arm around – Rohit made a massive amount of hitting room and pulled his first ball for six.

Then he cleared his front leg and hit another flat slider for a six over long-on. Santner nearly had his revenge next ball when he slowed down his pace, got the ball to turn and bounce a little more than usual, and got Rohit to miscue a slog-sweep, but Boult put down a difficult chance running in from long-on.

Rahul and Rohit then took 26 off the next two overs, off Adam Milne and Boult, and India were 105 for no loss with the required rate down to nearly a run a ball.

Southee triggers a wobble

Much like it did for Harshal, the slower ball into the pitch began to bring Tim Southee rewards. On 65, Rahul looked to whip him over the leg side boundary but failed to clear the boundary rider. In his next over, Southee got a slower ball to hold on the pitch and climb awkwardly at Rohit, who popped a catch to short cover. When Suryakumar bottom-edged another slower cutter into his stumps at the end of that over, India had two new batters at the crease with 17 required from 24.

A vaguely similar situation had led to an unexpectedly close finish in Jaipur, but India didn’t let it go that deep here. Venkatesh Iyer – promoted to No. 3 after not being needed with the ball yet again – looked nervy but picked up a pair of edged fours, before Rishabh Pant completed the job, smacking Neesham for back-to-back sixes at the start of the 18th over, ending the game with a trademark one-handed hit.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo



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