After blanking out West Indies, Sri Lanka and Australia in their last three ODI assignments, the Virat Kohli-led Team India were supposed to carry on their juggernaut against the visiting New Zealand in a short 'filler' series of three ODIs and three T20s. However, the last three weeks proved to be a potboiler for the subcontinent cricket lovers.
While the visitors again depended on their calm and composed style of cricket to test the home side big time, Kohli and Co. responded brilliantly by showing their fierce character. It was also a good preparation for them, ahead of tough South Africa and England tours next year.
As the ODIs and T20s ended in identical figures for Team India (2-1), the hard-fought bilateral series came up with few talking points. Here are some of those:
Virat Kohli puts an end to 'who is better' debate with Kane Williamson: When the Kiwis played a bilateral ODI series in India last year, the Indian skipper (358 runs in five matches) reigned over his Kiwi counterpart (211 runs in an equal number of games).
As both sides took on each other again, Kohli went on to become the fastest ODI batsman to break the 9000-run barrier. The Indian skipper smashed 263 runs, at an average of 87.67. His 121 in the first ODI at Mumbai was a restrained inning, as he batted for 46 overs to guide his side to 280-8. Then the 106-ball 113 in Kanpur decider was a typical swashbuckling one, where he not only forged a 230-run third wicket partnership with Rohit Sharma but also became the number one ODI batsman, registering career-high 889 rating points (going past the iconic Sachin Tendulkar who had 887 points in 1998).
His other milestones in the series were: Becoming the first batsman to score 2000 runs in 2017, crossing 5000 international runs as a captain in just 93 ODI innings and scoring six ODI centuries in a year (the first captain to do so). With 49 tons across all formats, Kohli is now 51 behind Tendulkar's 100 ODI hundreds.
Williamson, on the other hand, could manage only 73 runs (138 runs lesser than the 2016 series), with the highest being 64 in third ODI in Kanpur. In Mumbai, he was caught by Kedar Jadhav in Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav's bowling. In the second ODI at Pune, he got LBW-ed by Jasprit Bumrah's inswinger. In the third match, he was looking well set at 64, before Yuzvendra Chahal's leg break kissed his bat's edge and got deposited in wicketkeeper Dhoni's gloves.
Dinesh Karthik offers some solution to the middle-order crisis: India tried KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav at middle-order in last four months. While the experimentation with Rahul (28 runs in three games) and Pandey (169 runs in five games) failed, Jadhav didn't fare either, as he could manage only 265 runs in eleven matches.
So, this time selectors brought veteran Tamil Nadu batsman Dinesh Karthik on board. The right-handed wicketkeeper-batsman, who had only 1470 runs in 65 innings in last thirteen years, playing mostly as a replacement player, grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
In the Mumbai ODI, Karthik's 47-ball 37 and his 73-run fourth wicket stand with skipper Kohli helped India to recover from 71-3 to 280-8 . In the second match at Pune, the 32-year-old's patient 92-ball 64* anchored the home side's 231-run chase on a lively MCA track. With Ajinkya Rahane's superb form in 2017 (580 runs in five ODIs) making him one of the contenders for the middle-order slot, the team management would like to cash more on Karthik in South Africa and England tours next year.
The successful rejig in Kiwi batting order: In the Champions Trophy 2017, the Kiwis were eliminated from the first round after loosing two group games against host England and Bangladesh. While in the 87-run defeat against England, they collapsed from 158-2 to 223 all out, the five-wicket loss against Bangladesh was attributed by the way they managed only 64 runs in last twelve overs. The reason was the failure of the lower middle-order consisting Neil Broom, Jimmy Neesham and Corey Anderson.
Ahead of India ODIs, the visitors decided to rejig the batting order by pushing the left-handed Tom Latham into number five and promoting swashbuckling all-rounder as an opener. Also, Henry Nicholls and Colin De Grandhomme were brought in lower middle-order.
In the first ODI, while chasing 281, Munro (35-ball 28) gave the visitors a brisk start along with Martin Guptill. Then the 200-run fourth wicket partnership between Latham (102-ball 103*) and Ross Taylor (100-ball 95) inflicted a six-wicket loss on Kohli and Co. Latham swept effectively against legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal and Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav.
After a below-par batting display in Pune, both the batters dominated Indians again in the third ODI. Needing 338 to win, Munro (75 from 62) gave another flying start to Kiwis, as he and Kiwi skipper Williamson (64 off 84) formed a 109 third-wicket partnership. Bhubaneswar came under severe attack, as the left-hander first stepped out and hit the pacer for a six in the third ball his first over, followed by three consecutive boundaries. This resulted into Kumar ending at 92-1 in his ten overs. After Munro and Williamson's departures, Latham kept the visitors going through a gutsy 52-ball 65 knock. He swept and drove pacers and spinners alike, before getting run-out. Although the match ended in a six-run heartbreak for New Zealand, they certainly matched up to India's intensity with the bat.
Indian bowling shows character, when it mattered most: The short three-match ODI series was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Indian bowling, which conceded more than 250 runs only twice, in their last 14 games.
But the bowlers, especially spinners, got outplayed in the first ODI. The 200-run fourth wicket partnership between Taylor and Latham saw a good exhibition of sweep and cut shots.
In Pune, the same bowling attack came back brilliantly. Both Bhuvaneshwar and Bumrah shared five wickets among themselves. While their swinging deliveries, along with slowers and bouncers left the Kiwis reeling at 58-4 in the 16th over, the spinners choked the lower middle-order. While Latham couldn't sweep Axar Patel's left-arm orthodox spin, Kedar Jadhav used his slinging low-arm action effectively. Chahal too bowled a barrage of leg-cutters and googlies. The coordinated bowling restricted visitors for a meagre 230-9, which got chased down easily.
The real test came in the final ODI, where the Williamson and Co. decided to take the Indian bowling head on. Chasing 338, the Kiwis crossed the 150-run mark within the first 24 overs. Chahal staged the home side's comeback, as his slow loopy delivery shattered Munro's stumps. He then bowled another leg break against Williamson, which resulted in a catch to Dhoni's gloves. However, India were still looking down the barrel, as the Kiwis needed only 35 runs in last four overs. The problem mounted further, as Pandya, Jadhav and Axar conceded 141 runs in twenty overs between them.
Bhuvi started India's final counterattack in the 47th over, where he bowled Henry Nicholls and conceede just five runs. From there, 'death over specialist' Bumrah took over, as he used yorkers and slowers in his last two overs. His spell of 10-0-47-3, along with Chahal's (10-0-47-2) ensured one of the best ODI victories for Kohli's men. With tough tours in South Africa, England and Australia lying ahead, the team management would surely be delighted by the bowlers' performances.
India's spin woes against Santner-Sodhi continue: The ICC World T20 2016 opening match in Nagpur's Jamtha Stadium, between hosts India and New Zealand, grabbed headlines when the MS Dhoni-led side got skittled out for 79 while chasing 127. The pair of left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi wrecked the Men-in-Blue by sharing seven scalps between them.
After securing a 2-1 victory against Kiwis in the ODIs, when India stepped into the T20 series, the same duo taunted them again.
In the first T20 at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla, which the home side won by 53 runs, both Sodhi and Santner came up with economical spells. Both Dhawan (80) and Hardik Pandya (0) got caught by wicketkeeper Tom Latham while failing to decode Sodhi's leg-cutter and googly in the seventeenth over. His spell of 25-2 in four overs was the only bright side in the Kiwi bowling ranks, which ended up conceding a mammoth 202-3 against Indians.
In the second T20, chasing a 197, the Indian batters just couldn't milk away runs in the middle overs. While Sodhi bowled another economical spell, Santner also ensured that the likes of Kohli and Dhoni won't get to play big shots freely. While Kohli was caught in the seventeenth over by wicketkeeper Glenn Phillips, attempting an inside-out stroke against Santner, Pandya lost his middle-stump in an incoming Sodhi googly. Dhoni too could manage only three sixes in his 37-ball 49. Both the bowlers (56 runs in eight overs, with two wickets) backed up their pacers superbly, as the visitors notched up a 40-run victory.
In Thiruvananthapuram, While Sodhi went tad expensive (2-0-23-2), he still managed to dismiss skipper Kohli and Shreyas Iyer for 13 and 6 to ensure that Kiwis will only have to chase 68 runs in eight overs. Santner went wicketless but returned with a moderate figure of sixteen runs in two overs. Despite ending on the series-loosing side after the three matches, the spinning duo proved to be the bane of the home side's sound record against spinners.
Like ODIs, Indian bowlers stand up again against Kiwi batting: It won't be unfair to say that India's ODI series victory was only possible due to the strong show from their bowlers. Their good show continued in the T20s too.
The first match in Delhi, while Bumrah, Nehra and Bhuvi went for 89 runs in their combined spell of eleven overs, spinners Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal (8-0-46-4) ensured that the visitors would end up only at 149-8 against India's 202-3.
After Colin Munro's marauding 109 runs in 58 deliveries (seven fours and seven sixes) guiding the visitors for a 40-run victory in Rajkot, the bowlers staged a comeback in the third T20. Defending 67 runs in eight overs, the home side got an initial scare when Munro hit Bhuvaneswar Kumar for a massive six in the third ball of Kiwi innings. However, Bhuvi removed Martin Guptill's middle stump three balls later, following which Bumrah removed Munro in the second over. The home side kept chipping away, as the Kiwis ended up six runs short.
While leggie Chahal gave away only eight runs in two overs, Bumrah (2-0-9-2) and Bhuvi (2-0-18-1) exploited the slowish nature of Trivandrum's Greenfield Stadium to deliver India's first ever T20 series win Vs Williamson's men.
Dhoni's batting again becomes the topic of unnecessary talks: In the second T20 at Rajkot, while India were chasing 197 to win, MS Dhoni came out to bat at the tenth over. With the home side tottering at 67-4, he formed a 56-run third wicket partnership in next six overs. Despite scoring a 37-ball 49, Dhoni's batting became the subject of debate among the pundits. While India ended their chase at 156-7, Dhoni could manage only two boundaries and three sixes, at a strike rate of 132.43.
While the Kiwi pacers stuck to a good length and wide of off stump line to Dhoni's body, the spinners bowled slower, flighted deliveries. The Jharkhand dasher struggled particularly against legspinner Sodhi. While he could manage only two sixes against the Indian-born, he got beaten several times on his pads after stepping out. Also, the 35-year-old couldn't rotate the strikes freely. In the third T20, the team management decided to send Hardik Pandya and Manish Pandey ahead of Dhoni.
Former Indian cricketers VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar criticised Dhoni, suggesting that the team management should look for young blood. However, Skipper Virat Kohli came down hard on the critics by accusing them of "conveniently" scrutinizing Dhoni's skills, while ignoring others' failures.