India Vs New Zealand
Virat Kohli, in his 200th ODI, sought to play the perfect innings on a slow pitch and in sapping heat. He got lucky when he took the calculated risk, he was also dropped on 29, but that was fortune earned and he went on to score his 31st hundred.
New Zealand took more risks collectively, opened with almost a pinch hitter, but enjoyed less luck than Kohli. Yet, Kohli was let down by his team-mates, 37 being the next best score to his 121, whereas all New Zealand batsmen contributed – Ross Taylor and Tom Latham added 200 – as they chased down 281, only their third win when batting second against India in India.
It was a fascinating contrast of batting approaches. Kohli trusted his game and his fitness to score at around 80 runs per 100 balls without looking to even hit a boundary. He hit only five boundaries in his first 75 runs, two of them without meaning to. New Zealand, on the other hand, came out attacking, with Colin Munro taking a risk every over.
If it was a ploy to put the Indian spinners under pressure even before they were introduced, it didn’t work as they managed to still lose wickets. Latham and Taylor, though, swept the spinners to distraction, managed the seamers with ease, and kept finding the boundary whenever the asking rate threatened to become uncomfortable.
That the run rate was not highly demanding was down largely to Trent Boult, who removed the India openers in his first spell, and then took the wickets of MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya as he conceded just 35 in his 10 overs. He might have dropped an apparent sitter from Kohli, but Mitchell Santner, perhaps the only relatively permanent specialist fingerspinner in limited-overs cricket today, did his bit with the ball, taking Kedar Jadhav’s wicket and conceding just 41 runs in his allotment of 10 overs.
Kohli had to find a way around these two and slow conditions to build the India innings single-handedly. He stayed at the wicket for 46 overs in Mumbai’s October heat of over 30 degrees centigrade and humidity over 70%, but not once did he miss a quick single or fail to put pressure on the deep fielders with the threat of a second run. He came in to bat when the reunited India openers, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, seemed like they had eyes set on the return of the high-scoring ODI in India. Both of them perished to the swing of Boult, and with a shaky idle order to follow, Kohli knew he had to carry the innings.
Kohli did find support from a new middle-order applicant, Dinesh Karthik, who was playing his first ODI in India since 2010, but the support didn’t last. Around the 30th over, when wickets come with bigger impact than the earlier ones, Kane Williamson went back to his strike bowlers. In his first over back, Tim Southee sent back Karthik off a mis-hit hook, a shot that had earlier produced three sixes for India.
Now came the spell of play where teams hope for wickets to shut the opposition out. To that end, New Zealand kept going to their strike bowlers. MS Dhoni and Kohli managed to deny New Zealand those wickets, but Dhoni’s innings of 42 balls came at a strike rate of under 60. No side could say it owned this period of play, but in the end it proved to be the difference between chasing 281 and 300.
Boult came back to make sure India didn’t run away at the end even though Kohli accelerated gradually and Bhuvneshwar Kumar provided a finishing kick with 26 off 15. Eighty-three in those last 10 overs gave India a more than competitive total given the form of their bowlers and the nature of the pitch. However, after a pretty formulaic effort from Australia, India were now against an opposition that was intent on upsetting their rhythm.
Latham, who scored runs in each of his innings in the ODI series in India last year, was asked to step down into the middle order. Munro was asked to distract India’s new-ball bowlers. He succeeded for a bit before Jasprit Bumrah’s slower one accounted for him. Kuldeep Yadav was in the game right away, getting Williamson with a wrong’un that one of the best batsmen in the world failed to pick. Pandya bounced Martin Guptill out to make it 80 for 3, leaving India potentially one blow away from sealing the defense.
Latham and Taylor, though, had other ideas. Latham, especially, played the cleaner, more controlled innings. He swept and reverse-swept 20 of the 51 balls of spin he faced, taking 35 of his 58 runs of spin through those two shots. Taylor had to curb his leg-side play a little although he stayed partial to his other favourite, the cut. Over by over, shot by shot, the partnership grew. The spinners went past the bat but failed to create a wicket.
There came two opportunities in the field. In the 31st over, Dhoni could have run Taylor out with a direct hit at the bowler’s end. Dhoni missed, but Chahal, the bowler, was not at the wicket to collect the throw. In the 36th over, Kohli got a fortunate bounce at cover and Taylor gave up trying to make it. Kohli missed the stumps again. Taylor was 40 and 56 at those instances.
Desperate, India went back to seam bowlers, holding back four overs of spin, hoping they could pounce on the inexperienced batsmen to follow. For that, though, they needed a breakthrough. It wasn’t forthcoming as Latham and Taylor willed each other on, punishing every error from India. By the time, the last dice was rolled with the reintroduction of spin, New Zealand needed just 63 from nine overs.
Latham now was in the mood to have some fun, reverse-sweeping both the spinners. The batsmen had to work hard in the humidity; just like Dhoni and Kohli, they had to take frequent breaks. For India, the break came too late, with scores level. Taylor could have manipulated the scoring in the end and followed his partner Latham into a century, but he chose not to disrespect the opposition and took every run and leg-bye on offer. He was caught on 95 with scores level, and you couldn’t sense an ounce of disappointment at missing a century.