India were left stunned in the opening match of cricket’s World Twenty20 on home soil as they went down to a crushing 47-run defeat to New Zealand. The tournament hosts looked set to make a winning start and justify their tag as red-hot favorites to lift the trophy when New Zealand had been dismissed for just 126 after opting to bat first. But, despite conditions that should have been to their favor, India struggled to an even greater degree on a turning pitch in Nagpur and New Zealand’s decision to field three spinners and leave out their leading pacemen Tim Southee and Trent Boult paid handsome dividends. India’s lineup crumbled to just 79 all out, their second lowest total ever in Twenty20 internationals.
The home crowd was left silenced in disbelief, and they weren’t alone. India had won 10 of their last 11 Twenty20 matches coming into the tournament, encompassing series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka as well as lifting the Asia Cup earlier this month. The top of their batting order had been in scintillating form. Thus when openers Rohi Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had been dismissed inside the first 14 balls, thanks to the spin of Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner, there was already significant shock.
Perhaps the success of India’s top-order batsmen in recent months ended up counting against them here. Once they had been removed, batsmen who have gotten little time at the crease of late soon followed. When Virat Kohli, the man who has so often provided crucial innings for India, was dismissed in the eighth over for 23 off the bowling of another spinner, Ish Sodhi, India were in real trouble.
By the end, Indian-born Sodhi, who also caught and bowled Ravindra Jadeja with an exceptional catch, McCullum and Santner finished with a combined nine wickets, equaling the record for most wickets taken by spinners in a single innings of a T20 international.
It means suddenly the pressure is now on India in what is the toughest of the two groups in the Super 10 stage of the competition. Their next contest on Saturday against fierce foes Pakistan, already highly anticipated, now carries even more importance. For India, it is a must-win.
Such a dramatic scenario appeared implausible as India set apart New Zealand’s batsmen. India showed the depth of their spin bowling, with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being ably supported by Suresh Raina, who conceded just 16 runs from his four overs as well as taking a wicket. And the pace attack, contributed, too, especially Jaspirt Bumrah, whose yorkers were delivered with impeccable length and pace to concede only 15 runs, and tookthe wicket of the one New Zealander who threatened to make any lasting impression, Corey Anderson.
Anderson was forced to play a more restrained innings after New Zealand’s top three had all been dismissed inside seven overs without breaking double figures. Renowned for their ability to score quickly and powerfully, New Zealand failed to adjust to a pitch that offered more turn than anticipated. The decision of captain Kane Williamson, leading New Zealand in their first major tournament since the retirement of inspirational skipper Brendon McCullum, to bat first looked to have backfired.
Given the even more surprising decision to leave out Southee and Boult and go for a batting and spin-heavy lineup, New Zealand could have been left with sufficient egg on their face. But this is a team that has prospered in recent times, not least in reaching the final of last year’s 50-over World Cup, thanks to the boldness of their play and decisions.
And they were rewarded once again on Tuesday. India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni briefly threatened to guide his team even close to the required score, but with the wickets falling around him and the run rate ever climbing, India’s last hope went when the veteran was caught trying to find the boundary. It left Nehra and Bumrah at the crease, and it was not long before the final blow was delivered when Adam Milner clean bowled Nehra to provide an emphatic finish.
Having not made the semifinals of a World T20 since its inaugural edition in 2007, Williamson’s team have now given themselves a great chance to emerge from a group ahead of matches against Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.