India needed 68 in the last five overs in their pursuit of 213 against New Zealand in Seddon Park. Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya, all the big-hitters who were capable of taking India over the finish line had departed. However, Dinesh Karthik, who had helped India clinch victory against Bangladesh in the Nidahas Trophy final in a similar position was there along with Krunal Pandya, a capable batsman. Karthik smashed debutant Blair Tickner for a boundary in the 17th over but Krunal broke the shackles by hammering Tim Southee for two fours and a six in the 18th over. The equation boiled to 30 off 12 balls and India were in the contest with Karthik and Krunal smashing a six off Scott Kuggleijn. India needed 16 off 6. Southee held his nerve but on the third ball, Karthik refused the single to Krunal and the match was sealed. A six was hit of the last ball but New Zealand held on to seal a tense four-run win and win the three-match series 2-1 on Sunday.
It was a day of coincidences in both the men’s and the women’s team. In the women’s game earlier, India needed 16 off the last over but they lost by two runs. In this game, Southee managed to defend 16 but there will be plenty of discussions as to why Karthik refused the single which could have raised some tension in the New Zealand camp. Kane Williamson’s team, though, will not be complaining as they sealed the win to bounce back in style after a poor ODI series in which they were outplayed. Rohit won the toss and brought in Kuldeep Yadav in place of Yuzvendra Chahal but it was the hosts who dictated the course of the game.
Just like they had in Wellington, Colin Munro and Tim Seifert gave New Zealand a blazing start. Munro got going with a six off Bhuvneshwar Kumar while Seifert launched Khaleel Ahmed for a four and a six. The final over of the powerplay, bowled by Krunal, resulted in a deluge of runs with both Munro and Seifert clearing the boundary as New Zealand raced to 66/0. Hardik felt the brunt in the next over with both batsmen finding the boundary. Kuldeep’s first over produced a stunning stumping from Dhoni that saw Seifert being dismissed for 43 but Munro notched up his ninth fifty with two sixes off Kuldeep and Krunal.
Munro benefited from a drop from Khaleel and he punished Hardik by smashing a full toss to deep midwicket with Vijay Shankar fumbling and he launched the bowler for another six. Munro’s big hitting rubbed was halted when Kuldeep snapped him for 72 and after hitting two boundaries, Williamson’s (27) brief cameo was ended by Khaleel. Krunal’s day became even worse with Colin de Grandhomme smashing him for 15 runs in the 16th over. De Grandhomme hit two fours off Bhuvneshwar and some superb hitting from Mitchell and Ross Taylor helped New Zealand end on 212/4. Taylor ended the innings on a high with a last ball four off Khaleel which proved to be costly in the long-run.
Shikhar Dhawan has been the man in form in T20Is but when he fell in Mitchell Santner’s first over, India were facing an uphill task. Vijay Shankar got going with a couple of fours off Kuggleijn and Rohit also held one end up by finding the gaps on a regular basis as India smashed 57 in the powerplay. Shankar raised the tempo by hammering two consecutive sixes off Ish Sodhi but Santner took his second wicket when Shankar (43) holed out to deep midwicket.
Rishabh Pant started like a train and he blasted three sixes and a four to race to 23 off 6 balls but New Zealand built the pressure with two quiet overs. Pant felt the pressure and he gifted Blair Tickner his maiden T20I wicket. Hardik Pandya struck a couple of sixes off Mitchell but once he and Rohit fell in quick succession, the game was up for India and even a late fightback could not prevent India from ending their sojourn Down Under on the ultimate high.
With overseas results going India’s way, it is now time to get into World Cup mode as the countdown enters the final stage.