Ashwin, Suryakumar, Rohit shine as India earn hard-fought victory

by 24USATVNov. 17, 2021, 7 p.m. 17
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Guptill, Chapman got fifties for NZ, but otherwise their batting struggled after being inserted at the toss

India 166 for 5 (Suryakumar 62, Rohit 48, Boult 2-31) beat New Zealand 164 for 6 (Guptill 70, Chapman 63, Ashwin 2-23, Bhuvneshwar 2-24) by five wickets

When Venkatesh faced his first ball in international cricket, India were threatening to lose a match that had seemed unloseable less than half an hour ago. With six balls left, they needed ten to win. And New Zealand, having used up all their main seam bowlers, threw the ball to Mitchell.

Mitchell had earlier been out for a first-ball duck. Venkatesh had not been required at all until this point. Now they both had the chance to be the hero. Neither took that honour in the end. Venkatesh swatted the first legal ball he received for four, but was out next ball attempting a cute reverse-lap. Mitchell got that wicket, but he also sent down two big wides that reflected his rustiness as a bowler. Eventually, it came down to three off three, and Rishabh Pant , who had struggled to 13 off 16, stepped out and swiped Mitchell over mid-off to put an end to what had become an unexpectedly close contest.

Swing keeps New Zealand quiet

After a pair of outswingers to Guptill, Bhuvneshwar greeted Mitchell with an inswinger. Mitchell jabbed at the ball with no footwork, and the ball sneaked past his inside edge to knock back middle stump.

That was India's only wicket in the powerplay, but the ball kept swinging for Bhuvneshwar, Deepak Chahar and Mohammed Siraj, and all three made a concerted effort to bowl within the stumps. Chapman, New Zealand's No. 3, struggled to break free of this strangulation, or even get off strike. After three overs, Guptill had faced just two balls, and after five overs, he had faced just six. At that point, Chapman was on 20 off 23, and New Zealand were 26 for 1.

A partnership blossoms

New Zealand got going in the last powerplay over, when Chahar overused the slower short ball and conceded 15. There was only one boundary in the next four overs - shared between Ashwin and Axar Patel - but India conceded a spate of them after that, with Guptill extending his arms through a pair of lofted drives against Siraj, and Chapman putting Axar away for six and four in the 12th over and bringing up his fifty in the process.

When Guptill and Chapman hit back-to-back boundaries around the 14th over, New Zealand were 110 for 1, and looking on course for 177, according to ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster.

Ashwin turns on the magic

But Ashwin had other ideas. He had already discovered that this pitch was offering grip and turn if he bowled the odd ball a little slower, and had beaten Chapman's outside edge comprehensively in the seventh over with a dipping offbreak laden with overspin. He bowled another now, pitching on leg stump, and it beat Chapman's leg-side heave to peg back his off stump.

The next three balls were a probing examination of Glenn Phillips' technique. Two offbreaks - the first going with the arm past the outside edge, the second ripping inwards to beat the inside edge and hit thigh pad - and then the carrom ball, angling in before straightening towards off stump. Phillips' bat sliced across the line in defence, and the ball beat his outside edge to hit back pad - more or less in line with off stump, an umpire's call verdict sending him on his way after he reviewed.

Chahar and Siraj deny New Zealand big finish

Guptill was still in, though, and big sixes off Siraj and Bhuvneshwar in the 15th and 17th overs hurried him past 50 (he got there in 31 balls) and into the sixties. Guptill then nailed a massive drive into the stands beyond midwicket off Chahar at the start of the 18th, to bring up New Zealand's 150.

The momentum seemed to be going entirely one way, but Chahar struck a crucial blow the next ball, taking pace off to ensure a repeat attempt from Guptill ended up caught on the boundary. New Zealand's innings thereafter went like a pricked balloon: scoring only 14 off the last 16 balls of the innings, as the new batters struggled for timing.

Rohit launches off

Five overs into India's chase, this seemed like the T20 World Cup transplanted into Indian soil. Win toss, chase, win handily. India were 50 for no loss by then, with the ball coming onto the bat and allowing Rohit to show off his range of back-foot shots. Horizontal-bat slap that leaves every fielder rooted to his spot? Yes. Open-faced steer to bisect backward point and short third? Yup. Pull into the stands? Are you seriously asking?

Suryakumar brings his wrists to the party

Rahul fell at the start of the sixth over, picking out deep square leg with a pull off Santner, and India sent in Suryakumar, presumably to go after New Zealand's spinners. Soon, he was purring too, pulling off his trademark whips over midwicket off Todd Astle and Lockie Ferguson. At the halfway mark, India were 85 for 1.

Trent Boult sent Rohit back in the 14th over with a slower bouncer paired with a cleverly-set leg trap, but Suryakumar continued to find the boundary frequently and hurry India towards their target. He got to his fifty off his 34th ball, and when Boult dropped him at long leg in the 16th over - a sitter off Tim Southee's bowling - the end looked very near with India needing 23 off 24.

But one good over can transform a game, and Boult delivered it, alternating yorkers with short balls into the body to concede just a single in three balls to Pant, before bowling Suryakumar behind his legs. Shreyas Iyer played two dots to end the over, and suddenly India needed 21 off 18 without a set batter at the crease.

And much like New Zealand's innings, India's ground to a halt, possibly because of the ball growing softer. Ferguson and Southee conceded just 11 off the next 12 balls, the last of which brought the wicket of Shreyas, caught at long-off. And he crossed over with Pant while doing so, leaving the newbie on strike for the last over.

We know what happened next, and as tortuous and hair-raising as it was, the Rohit-Dravid era had begun with a win, and India had ended a seven-match losing streak, across formats, against New Zealand.

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