India vs New Zealand: How a rookie Kiwi skipper outsmarted M S Dhoni

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India vs New Zealand: How a rookie Kiwi skipper outsmarted M S Dhoni

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Arun S Kaimal

03/16/2016

Home conditions and IPL experience have made India the favourites for the T20 Cup, parroted almost every former and current cricketer in the world when they got access to a microphone. Even, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson joined the bandwagon picking India as the favourites when he arrived on Indian shores. But, the overwhelming favourites suffered a 47-run defeat against the Kiwis in a dustbowl of a pitch at Nagpur on Tuesday, with three spinners ripping apart the “world class” Indian batting line-up.

Almost four months back, India were at the same venue in their whites. Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra weaved a web around the South Africans to guide India to a 124-run-win with spinners taking 33 of the 40 wickets that fell in the Test. The pitch was rated ‘poor’ by the ICC and came under intense criticism. But in what can only be construed as a two-finger salute to the ICC, the BCCI has picked the same Nagpur pitch to host the most number of games in the ICC World T20 – 9. The BCCI president and the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar(who hails from Nagpur) and the ICC as a whole might have expected a batting-friendly track this time around after reportedly giving the curators clear guidelines for the preparation of the track. But a tiger cannot change its stripes overnight!

How the Kiwis won even before a ball was bowled

The Kiwis made a surprising call at the start of the match by selecting three spinners – Nathan McCullum, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner – leaving out their pacers Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan, who is ranked No.5 in the T20 bowlers’ rankings. Kane Williamson predicted a slow and dry pitch, and it turned out to be one on which his spinners made a mockery out of the Asian champions.

India, on the other hand, went in with their tried and tested XI, opting to bench Harbhajan Singh and Pawan Negi even after seeing a rank turner in front of them. At the end of the day, spin made the difference, and the Kiwis outsmarted the Indian think-tank at their own game in their own backyard. A total of 17 wickets fell at the Jamtha on Tuesday of which 12 belonged to the spinners. In fact, Nathan McCullum, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner combined to pick up nine of the ten wickets that fell in the Indian innings.

How India lost even before they faced a ball

When Ashwin, Jadeja and Raina took 12 overs and 74 runs to pick their three wickets, the Kiwi spinners finished the job in 11 overs conceding just 44 runs and picked nine wickets to script a well-deserved victory. Yes, you can blame the shot selection of the Indian batsmen, who played cross batted shots on a pitch where the ball was not coming to the bat, but the spinners also need to take their fair share of the blame.

India’s premier spinner Ashwin went for 32 runs in his four overs at an economy rate of 8, while Jadeja conceded 26 runs in his four overs. Suresh Raina, a part-timer, was the best of the Indian spinners, bowling four overs for just 16 runs. In a low scoring match, the extra thirty runs conceded by the spinners on the Indian side turned out to be a big difference at the end of the game. India’s reluctance to play the third spinner instead of a pacer might have also caused them the match at the end of the day. This is where Kane Williamson, who is still a rookie when it comes to captaincy, outwitted the veteran skipper on the other side.

(Read what could lead to India's success in the World T20)

Spinners in tandem, India playing random

Just like Dhoni, Williamson also opened with an off-spinner as Nathan McCullum removed Dhawan with the batsman trying to play a sweep. That should have sent a warning to the batsmen sitting in the dressing room, but almost everyone followed the opener back to the pavilion playing cross-batted shots when the ball was sticking on to the wicket.

Even though the Kiwi spinners were inviting the batsmen onto the front foot by bowling loopy deliveries, Indian batsmen played into their hands by gifting their wickets. With three spinners at hand, Williamson rotated them cleverly giving the Indians no chance to breathe. The only time in the innings when India looked comfortable was when Kohli and Dhoni were rotating the strike through singles. That brief spell of good play was the template the Men in Blue needed to follow for the rest of the innings. But they all seemed in a hurry to finish the innings and perished to India’s second lowest total in T20Is.

(Take a look at our picks for the best all-time T20 XI)

No Kohli, No win

When it comes to India’s batting, the signs were always there. In the Asia Cup match against Pakistan, India almost suffered a similar result after Mohammad Amir ran through the top order to leave the Men in Blue reeling at 8/3. At Mirpur, Virat Kohli’s 51-ball 49 took India out of the woods, but this time there was no repeat of the story. Ish Sodhi’s first ball in the 2016 World T20 ended India’s hopes as early as the ninth over of the match. An attempted cover drive from the No.2 batsman in T20Is found the edge of his bat to give Ronchi behind the stumps an easy catch as Kohli walked back to the pavilion taking the hopes of a victory away with him.

The ‘overwhelming favourites’ now travel to the Eden Gardens in Kolkata for what is now a must-win game against arch-rivals Pakistan on Saturday. A defeat at Kolkata could spell the end of India’s campaign at the World T20, leaving the think-tank and the captain with a lot to answer for. But the bigger question is will Dhoni, who expressed his displeasure about the low-scoring pitches in the Asia Cup, preach the same about the home ground of the BCCI president? We will have to wait and see, but first someone needs to ask the right question.

(Take a look at our analysis on who can win the World T20 - the favorites and the dark horses)

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