In a rain-marred series, Hardik Pandya has done all he could to show he is ready to be captain. But Indian cricket has been in the same situation before with Rohit Sharma. New hope or same-old?
There is a sense of Déjà vu to this. A T20 series win against New Zealand under a new captain, coming closely on the heels of an embarrassing T20 World Cup exit. A perception of a new awakening, only for the story to repeat itself at the biggest showpiece event in the format – the T20 World Cup. Time will tell how this turns out.
When Rohit Sharma led India on to the field at Jaipur on November 17, 2020, just three days after the Black Caps lost the T20 World Cup final in Dubai, it was supposed to usher in a new era. New faces came in, new combinations were tried, a new-found approach was injected in, experiments became the theme for the next 10 months. In the end, when the T20 World Cup arrived a year later, England showed in the semifinals how out of depth India are in the format.
And as India clinched the series in Napier with a 1-0 scoreline after the third and final T20I ended in a tie, (rains arrived when India needed one more run to be considered victors as per Duckworth-Lewis) the lingering question on everyone’s lips is where do they go from here.
For all the talk of change of approach, entering the T20 World Cup in Australia with a similar batting unit from the previous edition proved to be the biggest undoing. And over here in New Zealand, India sent in a different squad, mostly comprising of players who will be integral to the team going forward. Of course, there are a few back home like Prithvi Shaw, but there is surely time for it.
When the Chetan Sharma-led selection panel handed over the reins to Rohit Sharma – a decorated T20 captain with most IPL titles, it seemed a logical decision. Never mind the fact, at 34, he was a year older than Virat Kohli. Successful T20 sides, unless it happens to be Chennai Super Kings, don’t fall up on an older captain to replace the incumbent. It is a format where you are constantly told to move forward. But with India, names and reputations take precedence. Which is why the latest T20 World Cup debacle has not just woken up the team, but even the board.
A new selection panel will take charge soon and although they have their task cut out, it is no means going to be as challenging as it is being made out to be. In Hardik Pandya, they have a captain, who seems to be ready-made for the format. As he showed in the IPL with Gujarat Titans, and his fans keep reminding us on social media how there are similarities with MS Dhoni especially in the manner in which he is keeping it simple.
For instance, at McLean Park, Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips were running away with the game for New Zealand with an 86-run stand for the third wicket. With each over, the momentum was tilting the Kiwis way as the hosts were placed 105/2 at the end of 13 overs. With Arsheep Singh, Harshal Patel to take care of the death overs, Pandya didn’t hesitate to bowl out Bhuvneshwar Kumar – who has struggled to bowl at the death – by the 14th over. Never mind the fact that Bhuvneshwar ended up conceding 15 runs in the over, it allowed Pandya to fall back on specialists in the end. And he also had the luxury of Mohammed Siraj, who had pegged back the hosts with the wicket of Mark Chapman in the last over of powerplay. It meant Conway and Phillips had to consolidate first.
While the left-right swiftly changed gears as the innings progressed, Pandya’s move to keep the specialists for the death brought India back into the game. Off the last six overs, India ended up conceding only 40 runs and accounted for eight wickets with Siraj and Arshdeep ending-up with four wickets each as New Zealand eventually folded up for 160.
Given the short boundaries on either side of the square, it was total well below par. And New Zealand, as expected, came out on the attack and India were equally up to it. With forecasts of rain around, India’s top-order didn’t waste any time to get off the blocks. Though it led to quick wickets – Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav, the fact that they never let the innings stall meant India’s total of 75/4 at the end of 9 overs was on par with DLS score. It was good enough to give them a series win.
And as the rain poured at the McLean Park, and the umbrellas came out, another bilateral series was done and dusted. It may not live in the memory for long, but for India there is plenty to take home about. They have the players in place, it is over to the selectors to pick the players ahead of big names and reputations.
Brief scores: New Zealand 160 in 19.4 overs (Devon Conway 59, Glen Phillips 54, Mohammed Siraj 4/17, Arshdeep Singh 4/37) tied with India 75/4 in 9 overs (Hardik Pandya 30 n.o) via DLS method.