It was a match they should have won, but for the second match in a row, New Zealand have managed to lose from seemingly easy positions, thus going 0-4 down in the five-match T20I series with one to go.
New Zealand needed just 11 runs from 2 overs with seven wickets in hand. It became 7 off the last over, which they managed to stretch to another Super Over, eventually losing.
On the other hand, India would be pleased with the jail-break considering it wasn’t even their first-choice XI. Having already won the series in the first three games, India used the opportunity to test their bench with an eye on the T20 World Cup. They made three changes to the XI that won the first three matches, bringing in Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar and Navdeep Saini and rotating out Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami.
Before the last-minute turnaround, though, there were plenty of struggles, and thus learnings, for India in the game. Every now and then, India produce a batting performance that puts doubts about their middle order, and this was one such. India were 88 for 6 at one stage before Manish Pandey (50* off 36) and Shardul Thakur (20 off 15) revived them. KL Rahul had scored 39 off 26 but Rohit’s absence and Kohli’s failure exposed - or gave an opportunity to - some of the other batsmen contending for spots.
How did they fare?
For the second time in his last two T20Is, Samson fell immediately after hitting a six early in his innings. Against Sri Lanka recently, he hit a first-ball six before being trapped lbw. Here, he went for another glory shot only to miscue a catch.
Kohli backed Samson after the game, calling him fearless but the batsman would be kicking himself for letting an opportunity slip. Not often does one get to open in T20Is, with the likes of Rahul, Rohit and Dhawan holding on to the spots. Samson for the rare opportunity but couldn’t convert.
It’s perhaps harsh to judge or write off Samson based on these odd opportunities. But what of the other keeper in the squad, Rishabh Pant?
Pant was picked in the squad ahead of Samson, who made it only due to the injury to Shikhar Dhawan. Four games into the series, Pant is yet to play.
With an eye on the larger picture too, it’s hard to see where Samson will fit into a full strength Indian team, as was the case before Dhawan’s injury. Samson is class when he gets going, but he’s also more of a top order batsman than a middle order finisher, which is the kind of player India are looking for. That’s where Pant plays, and it might be a better idea to give him more time too. The upcoming matches will give a clearer picture about what India are planning to do with Samson and Pant.
Shreyas Iyer has earned himself the room for the odd failure, but Dube could be feeling the heat after another below par performance. Dube was promoted to No. 3 in the last match, walked in at the 10th over and wasted the chance scoring 3 off 7.
He got an even bigger opportunity this time, coming in in the seventh over itself. However, he managed only 12 off 9 before holing out to long on. Barring a 54 against West Indies, Dube hasn’t had a headline performance which could see his stocks raise. India have trusted Dube to do the job in Hardik Pandya’s absence, and he could potentially have one more T20I to impress, for Hardik is set to return with the IPL.
Washington conceded 24 runs in two overs, but it’s his batting that will perhaps disappoint him more. The off-spinner has been a regular with the Indian T20I set up in recent months and would know that bad days with the ball are not too uncommon.
But opportunities with the bat are limited. He got that this game, walking in with nearly 10 overs to spare. Washington had been in good form with the bat in the syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and this was his chance to impress with the bat in national colours and make a case for being an all rounder.
However, he too couldn’t use the chance, falling for duck in three balls, bowled by Mitchell Santner.
What Samson, Dube and Washington failed to do, Manish Pandey did
The top order’s failure meant India needed a batsman to just rotate and gather runs without risk. Pandey used his experience and did that to perfection, coming out with a half-century. That Pandey hit only three fours in his 36-ball 50 says a lot about his mode of play.
With KL Rahul keeping wickets, Pandey has been picked in the middle order ahead of Pant, and he showed the rest of them how to use the opportunity and earn a longer run.
Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur impress too
At full strength, it’s unlikely that Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur would have bowled the last two overs. They did that effectively; Saini conceded only four in the penultimate over before Thakur gave six in the last. They were helped by some poor batting from New Zealand, but India will be glad that bowlers other than Bumrah and Shami are doing the tough jobs too. They also made some vital contributions with the bat in the lower order, which will impress the management.