It was just not India’s night. It was the kind of night in Wellington when nothing got going and India was left seeking minor positives to hold on to from the match. From sluggish bowling to dropped catches, from its batsmen being yorked to finding fielders in the deep, everything that could go wrong for India did go wrong.
As India suffered its biggest defeat in 111 Twenty20 internationals, it had only a couple of straws to clutch. A fine catch in the deep by Dinesh Karthik was a rare moment of brilliance on a night when the catching standard was low; Mahendra Singh Dhoni batting the longest for India and top-scoring would help in terms of his preparation for the ICC Cricket World Cup.
From the moment Rohit Sharma invited New Zealand to bat first, it appeared as if the team struggled to find a rhythm. Barring Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s neat first over, the bowlers were taken to the cleaners with a disdain. The boundaries came at the beck and call of the New Zealand top-order batsmen, Tim Seifert, Colin Munro and Kane Williamson.
It was almost as if India had little inkling on where to bowl to Seifert, who opened the New Zealand innings for the very first time in either limited-overs format. Of course, some of the Indians have watched him play for New Zealand A but it would appear that their inputs were of no avail when he put the attack to sword.
He offered a sharp chance when on 17 in the fifth over when Krunal Pandya found the outside edge, but it was too quick for Dhoni to snaffle the catch. Seifert made the most of the opportunity to kick on and breeze to his half-century off just 30 deliveries. And in the process, he would have reminded some of a certain Brendon McCullum.
Karthik dropped Seifert and Ross Taylor on a night when India’s two spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Krunal Pandya squeezed in the odd decent over. While some may say that Kuldeep Yadav would have made a difference to the bowling attack, India’s problems were on account of the faster bowlers unable to make an impact on the New Zealand batsmen.
Of course, there was a wicket each for Bhuvneshwar and left-armer Khaleel Ahmed, while Hardik Pandya claimed two, but those came at a high price. They did not bowl the right length on a ground that places a premium on accuracy. With the pitch offering them little support, the fast-medium trio resembled lambs for the slaughter.
In Virat Kohli’s absence, India needed someone to plan and manage the chase of a large target. Barring a visible plan to target the square boundaries – and that led to a few dismissals to catches near the boundary line – there was little that India did right. Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar hit a few sixes in the powerplay overs but could not sustain the onslaught long enough.
It would rankle the team’s think-tank – even if it would not admit in public – that New Zealand’s spinners picked up four wickets. Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner struck twice in an over to see the backs of Rishabh Pant and Shankar in the ninth over. Leg-spinner Ish Sodhi did likewise to scalp Karthik and Hardik in the 11th over.
Yet, even before the halfway stage in the Indian innings, the writing was on the wall. The only gain from an Indian perspective was Dhoni utilising the chance to bat through a few overs. His 52-run seventh-wicket partnership with left-handed Krunal served to reduce the margin of defeat to some extent.
Shankar’s brief attack notwithstanding, it was apparent that India erred in not sending Pant at the fall of skipper Rohit's wicket in third over. They may have wanted a left-right combination in the middle, but it is just possible that he would have helped Dhawan maintain a higher tempo during the powerplay overs.
The middle-order was so brittle that India’s hopes all but faded away when an express yorker from Lockie Ferguson disturbed the woodwork that Dhawan was guarding. It was the moment most fans would reckon as the time when India’s chase came unhinged. After his dismissal, it was a matter of how big the margin of defeat would be.
When the team looks back at how it fared during the chase, it may realise that it needed someone to hold an end up while others indulged in the frenzied bid to take on the challenge. The collective failure of India’s strokeplayers, coming in the wake of most of the bowling unit having an off-day meant that its date with a Twenty20 win in New Zealand would take longer to materialise.
Given the nature of the T20 beast, India will have to believe that it can pull off a victory over New Zealand sooner than later. It will have to make fewer mistakes than it did at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Wednesday. It will have to turn in a better show in all three departments of the game and bridge the gap between its potential and performance.