ICC World Twenty20 2016: Defeat To New Zealand Can Serve as a Wake-up Call for Hosts India

India’s Defeat v New Zealand could serve as a wake-up call for the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016 hosts.

India suffered a morale-denting 47-run defeat against New Zealand in their first Group 2 match of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 on Tuesday. Chasing 127 for victory, India were bundled out for 79 by the Blackcaps’ spin trio of Nathan McCullum (2), Mitchell Santner (4) and Ish Sodhi (3), who, it has to be said, made complete sense of their team’s tactic to hit the Men in Blue with spin. By falling to such a huge defeat, not only have India left themselves with a mountain to climb to make it to the semifinals but also allowed doubts to creep into their psyche.

Earlier in the evening, Kane Williamson had won the toss and chosen to bat first. His decision was justified given the appearance of the Nagpur pitch, which was bone dry and full of cracks. Martin Guptill set the ball rolling for New Zealand with a massive six off Ravichandran Ashwin on the very first delivery of the match. The 29-year-old right-hander’s foolhardiness led to his dismissal on the second ball. From Guptill’s approach, though, it was palpable that the Blackcaps wanted to make a quick start and score as many runs upfront while the white kookaburra ball was hard and new.

Williamson and company, I thought, did not find the right balance between attacking and being a little subdued in order to preserve wickets. A combination of rash shots and some good spin bowling from the hosts – who also had Suresh Raina bowling four overs, picking up the wicket of Williamson and giving away just 16 runs – meant that the Blackcaps never had any rhythm to their innings. Thanks to Luke Ronchi’s 21* (11) right at the death, they surged up to 126/7, with Ashish Nehra’s third over and the final one of the innings, costing India 15 runs, which were massive in the context of the game.

From India’s point of view, can they recover from this telling blow?

Putting India’s Defeat v New Zealand into Perspective

During the innings break, there was a universal feeling that India would overhaul the total of 127. Every one of their batsmen had got runs in the lead-up to the T20 world cup and it was a really long Indian batting lineup that confronted New Zealand. But the hosts’ approach to the target was not assured.

Rohit Sharma played a couple of loose shots against N McCullum in the very first over and it set the tone for an uncharacteristic Indian batting display. New Zealand’s spinners bowled brilliantly to bamboozle the Indian batsmen, who, however, seemed bereft of ideas and the shots they played insinuated a lack of blueprint for the chase. Shikhar Dhawan got out playing the conventional sweep to a ball that was tossed up. McCullum is not an off-spinner who usually turns the ball, but the pitch assisted every spinner who rolled his arm over. So Dhawan’s shot made little sense, considering it was only the third ball he faced in his innings too.

Almost every Indian batsman, barring Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, looked disturbed by the demons on the surface. So, even though McCullum, Santner and Sodhi produced probably their best Twenty20 International (T20I) bowling performances and got the wickets they deserved, they were also helped by nervous, jittery Indian batsmen who did not have a clear game plan.

Indian cricket fans would hope that Tuesday’s defeat and the manner of it importantly, do not have an adverse effect on the home side. But, with just three games left to play, India are under massive pressure. Their next two fixtures against Pakistan (19th March 2016) and Bangladesh (23rd March 2016) are the easiest in their group and, like against New Zealand, India would be expected to win. The big question, however, is: can they shake off the bruising New Zealand have left them with, following their 47-run victory?

It is difficult to say if the Nagpur wicket was ‘prepared’ to favour the home side, or if its nature has changed completely. Just about four months ago India played South Africa in a Test match at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium, and the match finished inside three days. Again, like India’s batting display on Tuesday night, the Proteas did not have a game plan and the Ashwin-Ravindra Jadeja combo was too good for Hashim Amla and co.

But I just wonder if the Nagpur pitch has lost the pace and bounce it has been known for. In 2012, when England toured India for a four-match Test series, the wicket for the final Test was a really dry one too. However, unlike the pitch for last night’s game between India and New Zealand, that one was on the slower side and lacked the venom to cause qualms for the batsmen. India only managed a draw out of that game they had to win to level the series.

Final Thought

India have invited pressure onto themselves by losing to New Zealand. They now need to win their remaining three Group 2 games to qualify for the last four of the world T20 2016. Two wins might be enough, but then the net run-rate could come into the equation and complicate matters for Team India, whose current net run-rate is -2.350, and their ardent supporters. The immediate concern for India is overcoming the psychological blow they have been dealt with. If they manage to, they can harness the next two relatively easy fixtures for their standards and win against Pakistan and Bangladesh.

India v Pakistan at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Saturday will have a lot riding on it, for the Men in Blue.

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