Eden Park. A batsman’s paradise. A bowler’s nightmare.
In 20 T20Is hosted here prior to Sunday, the average scoring rate had been 8.73 runs per over. In the last seven matches held at the venue, since the start of 2018, that rate had escalated to 9.87 per over.
In the previous game, 204 had been chased down in 19 overs. One game earlier, a total of 146 hadn’t proved enough in an 11-overs-a-side contest. Go a little further back, and Auckland had witnessed the highest successful chase in T20I history, as Australia gunned down 244 – with seven balls to spare.
On Sunday, still only five days into their arrival on these shores, India restricted New Zealand to 132/5. At the same batting paradise.
Let’s put this into greater context: In 20 previous T20Is at Eden Park, only twice had lower first innings totals been recorded, and both had occurred in 2006; since 2010, in 16 completed 20-over innings, only thrice had the team batting first registered a score below 150.
When faced with the challenge of pint-sized grounds, of which we do have a few in international cricket – think Wankhede or Wanderers, apart from a clutch of venues in New Zealand – bowling teams lay out multiple plans as they scratch their heads in a bid to stem the run-fest. Sunday at Eden Park, though, was a masterclass in execution from the Indian bowling unit.
It almost feels as though the opening over of the day, bowled by Shardul Thakur – with two sixes from the first four balls – happened on Friday. Indeed, take aside that 13-run over from Thakur and the 15 conceded by Yuzvendra Chahal in the 16th, and the Kiwis were barely crossing 100.
It’s not just that they did it at Eden Park. This isn’t a team renowned for limiting teams to pedestrian totals in this format; since the end of the 2016 World T20, India have fielded first in 29 T20Is – only four times have they conceded totals lesser than 132.
The bowling plans were being executed pretty much right from the end of that opening Thakur over. The recent tactic of rotating the three fast bowlers through the Powerplay meant India had stifled Colin Munro – among the most destructive openers going around in T20s – for the second time in three days. But Martin Guptill appeared to be batting on the usual Eden Park surface, and when his 20-ball 33 ended off the final delivery of the first six overs, the hosts still had a more-than-respectable 48/1 on the board.
A six and a four from the first nine balls bowled by Shivam Dube, both hit by Munro, meant that New Zealand were 68/1 in 8.3 overs – still maintaining a rate of eight per over. But the left-hander fell off the very next ball; from here on began an irreversible tightening of the screws.
New Zealand went seven overs without a boundary before Tim Seifert managed to get hold off successive Chahal deliveries in the 16th over.
It was the period where Ravindra Jadeja, with a bit of a rotational cast at the other end, sucked any possible impetus out of the innings – a 39-ball spell that began with Munro’s dismissal saw New Zealand add only 26 runs, while losing three wickets.
The respite afforded by Seifert’s hits off Chahal, too, proved to be momentary, because the four remaining overs that followed saw the addition of just one more boundary – and 23 runs in all.
India had conceded all of 59 runs from the final 10 overs. Since the start of 2018, the back-half scores for teams batting first in T20Is at Eden Park had been 107, 129, 58, 124, 98 and 112.
That’s not all; New Zealand’s innings featured seven fours and five sixes – Eden Park has averaged 23 fours and 19 sixes per game in the last seven T20Is.
Quite understandably, these were the efforts of a multi-pronged execution of the highest order.
Jadeja, of course, was the standout: 18 runs from four overs, with the wickets of Colin de Grandhomme (who he’s now dismissed thrice in eight balls in T20s) and Kane Williamson. Jadeja’s is now the most economical four-over spell by any visiting bowler at Eden Park.
India’s strike pacers, meanwhile, might not have had as much in the wickets column, but were arguably more immaculate in carrying out whatever had been planned.
Jasprit Bumrah didn’t allow any runs irrespective of where and when he was called upon, bowling the third, 10th, 18th and 20th overs of the innings – and conceding 21. Bumrah’s four death overs from the first two games have gone for a total of 28 runs.
More heartening to the team’s cause, from a longer-term perspective in particular, was Mohammed Shami, who rebounded from a 53-run pasting in game one to leak only 22 from his allotted quota. That’s impressive by any standard, but becomes all-the-more relieving coming from someone with a T20I economy rate of 10.35 before this outing.
Bumrah and Shami’s figures, too, now rank among the ten most economical four-over spells by visiting bowlers at this ground (and the top-five among non-spinners).
So three of India’s bowlers went at 5.50-per-over or lesser in the same game. In a T20I. At one of the highest-scoring venues in international cricket.
The word ‘masterclass’ has been used many-a-gazillion time for India’s batting exploits; the captain and vice-captain between themselves alone have a museum worth of limited-overs masterpieces.
On Sunday, however, India’s bowlers delivered a masterclass to do the job at the batting paradise that is Eden Park.
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