India 204 for 4 (Iyer 58*, Rahul 56, Kohli 45, Sodhi 2-36) beat New Zealand 203 for 5 (Munro 59, Taylor 54*, Williamson 51, Jadeja 1-18) by six wickets
The last time India and New Zealand met, in the World Cup semi-final last year, Martin Guptill pulled off a memorable direct hit to run MS Dhoni out and seal India’s fate. Six months on, in the T20I series opener against India at Eden Park, he pulled off a similarly memorable diving catch at deep midwicket to dismiss a well-set Virat Kohli for a 32-ball 45 in a chase of 204. On the night, though, it wasn’t enough as Shreyas Iyer finished the chase off in uber-cool fashion, with an over to spare, and put India 1-0 ahead in the five-match T20I series.
When Iyer had joined Manish Pandey, who had been picked ahead of a fit-again Rishabh Pant, India still needed 62 off 40 balls. Iyer took charge, making 48 in the unbroken stand with Pandey, and pressed on to a 26-ball half-century, thrilling the sea of blue in the stands.
After New Zealand had been asked to bat earlier in the evening, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor reeled off quicker fifties – off 25 balls each – and Colin Munro hit a relatively sedate half-century. When India batted, KL Rahul cracked a 27-ball 56 and Kohli almost got to the mark too, but it was Iyer’s contribution that proved decisive in a match that produced an aggregate of 407 for 9.
Munro finds a way despite India’s well-laid plans
Munro thrives on width and if he’s denied that he struggles to put the ball away. Most teams have figured that out and try to cramp him for room. India followed a similar template against the left-handed opener on Friday and in addition to attacking his body, they routinely took pace off the ball and challenged him to clear the longish leg-side boundaries.
After awkwardly dealing with a surfeit of short balls, Munro flitted around the crease, manufactured room for himself, and messed with the lines and lengths of India’s attack. In the process, he opened up gaps on the off side and scored 23 of his 59 runs in the arc between third man and mid-off. He clouted Shardul Thakur over mid-off for six and then punched allrounder Shivam Dube through the same region for four. He contributed 44 in an 80-run opening stand with Guptill off 47 balls, before Dube tricked Guptill with a 119kph cutter and had him holing out in the eighth over. Four overs later, Thakur finally executed the plan and got rid of Munro with the knuckle ball.
The Williamson-Taylor bash
In 2018, Simon Doull had questioned Williamson’s place in New Zealand T20I set up and on the eve of the series opener against India, his captaincy was questioned following the 3-0 shellacking across the Tasman, albeit in the longest format. And not too long ago, Taylor had been dropped from the New Zealand T20I side. But the two batsmen put on a breathtaking display of ball-striking during a 61-run fourth-wicket stand that came off a mere 34 balls.
Williamson was particularly brutal on Thakur, smashing him for back-to-back slogged sixes in the 12th over. Yuzvendra Chahal, who had been selected ahead of Kuldeep Yadav as New Zealand had nine right-handers in their line-up, wasn’t spared either. Williamson rearranged the legspinner’s figures in his last over when he nailed him for three fours in four balls.
After Williamson eventually fell to Chahal, Taylor took charge of the innings and finished it in grand fashion. He got his trademark down-on-one-knee hockey swipe going and even dug deep into his reserves, dabbing Jadeja from the stumps to the third-man boundary with the back of his bat.
Just when New Zealand seemed like they could wind up with 220, Jasprit Bumrah gave up just 16 runs in his last two overs while picking up the wicket of Tim Seifert.
Rahul and Iyer to the fore
After a tidy shift behind the stumps, Rahul extended his rich form in front of it, with a 23-ball half-century. Although left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner found turn with the new ball and had Rohit Sharma sending a catch to backward point for 7, Rahul regularly found the boundary, ensuring India were always in touch with the asking rate.
After a boundary-less first over, India struck at least one boundary in the next eight overs. New Zealand could have had Rahul on 27 had they not missed two run-out chances off one ball in the sixth over. Soon after, Ish Sodhi reprieved Kohli on 33 at third man. In the next over, however, Southee completed a well-judged catch to remove Rahul. Then, Guptill made a difficult catch appear ridiculously easy as New Zealand seemed to be on to something.
However, Iyer took on Southee’s length balls and debutant Hamish Bennett’s shorter deliveries to dash New Zealand’s hopes. In all, he looted 40 off 17 balls from the two seamers. At the other end, Pandey played sensibility and simply passed the strike over to his partner. Fittingly, it was Iyer who sealed it, when he monstered Southee over midwicket for six.