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Rahul, Iyer show their worth as India make light work of 204 target

India has failed to win a T20I series in two previous attempts in New Zealand. But they did take positive first step towards correcting that anomaly, registering a six-wicket win in the first game of the series at Eden Park. India had a very quick turnaround since their last series – against Australia at home – and appeared rusty with the ball, especially in the PowerPlay, but their batting quality shone through as they hunted down a target of 204 with an over to spare.

Rahul lost his opening partner, Rohit Sharma, early in the chase but fed of serial “energizer bunny” Virat Kohli to give India’s chase the early impetus. The right-hander has been in breathtaking form and with his new ‘keeping role, his value to the side has grown by leaps. That security blanket reflects in his decision making in the middle. There were no half measures as he began his knock by hitting two boundaries off Mitchell Santner. The highlight of his early assault though was a short-arm pick-up shot off Tim Southee that sailed over the cow corner fence. Rahul’s onslaught allowed India to hit 65 in the PowerPlay – matching the asking rate for a 204 chase.

Iyer walked in at the fall of Rahul’s wicket, after the latter had put on a 99-run stand with Kohli. He’d faced only three balls when Kohli departed to the pavilion as well. Shivam Dube followed suit and what seemed a straightforward chase, suddenly turned slightly complicated. India needed 60 to win from the final six overs and a window was open for New Zealand to come back. Except Iyer shut that back in the hosts’ face with his audacious batting display, one that saw him continue from where he left the other night at Bangalore against Starc, Cummins & Co.

By targetting bowlers early in the overs. New Zealand appeared to have earned the momentum through Ish Sodhi in the middle when Iyer picked up 14 off the leggie to turn the tide in India’s favor once more. In the next over, he pulled a short ball over fine leg against Southee and followed that with consecutive fours to begin the 18th, bowled by debutant Hamish Bennett. Such was his confidence that he hit 18 off another Southee over, finishing with a towering six over mid-wicket to finish with a 200 strike-rate (58* off 29).

Most certainly not. Besides the middle-overs comeback with the ball led by Ish Sodhi, the hosts had a very productive outing with the bat. Colin Munro, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor struck rapid half-centuries to prop them up to 203. Munro waded through India’s feeble attempts at bouncing him out, setting the tone for New Zealand’s 68-run PowerPlay. Both he and Martin Guptill were smart in not taking any undue risks against Jasprit Bumrah, taking on the lesser seamers – Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Shami. The openers raced off to an 80-run stand before Shivam Dube dismissed Guptill to bring India back in the contest.

Like New Zealand would do in the second innings, India too bowled well through the middle phase of the innings chiefly through Yuzvendra Chahal but the experience and class of Williamson and Taylor and shone through with a pair of 25-ball half-centuries. Williamson played the angles of the Eden Park stadium to perfection, something Chahal missed when he walked in six steps at the cow corner boundary only to see the bail sail just over his head. While Williamson handled Thakur with a couple of sixes, Taylor turned back the clock off Shami’s 16th ball, rekindling his love for the shuffle and slog to cow-corner in a 22-run over. If not for Jasprit Bumrah’s brilliance – going for only 16 off two death overs – India may have been chasing at least 10-15 extra runs.

Brief scores: New Zealand 203/5 in 20 overs (Colin Munro 59, Ross Taylor 54*, Kane Williamson 51; Jasprit Bumrah 1-31) lost to India 204/4 in 19 overs (KL Rahul 56, Shreyas Iyer 58*, Virat Kohli 45; Ish Sodhi 2-36) by six wickets.

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