The Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi bore witness to a phenomenon that had been missing in New Zealand's tour of India so far, that of the visitors holding their nerves to win.
Thursday's performance by the Black Caps, that lead to a nervy win over favourites India, was a result of them fighting with the same spirit that propelled them to the final of the last World Cup, and proving to their opponents that they are not the paper tigers they were made out to be after a string of losses.
The near-invincibility of the hosts for the most part in this tour nearly took the joy out of the contests. Thanks to New Zealand's series-levelling effort in New Delhi, the interest levels in the series have been restored. Finally, the Indians have been given a challenge in their backyard, and it will be interesting to see what their response is like at Mohali.
Like all adverse situations, this defeat is bound to throw up some questions — both old as well as new. There are issues for the team management to ponder upon in the next couple of days. For once, they will have to forego their dependence on their luck during the toss, and focus on other areas.
However, the game was not without its positives, and there were quite a few if one has to look at India's roadmap in the coming months.
The foremost would be Hardik Pandya, who only managed to earn his maiden ODI cap in the first game of the series, and did not waste time in making an impact straightaway. If he shone with the ball at Dharamsala, it was time for him to showcase his temperament with the bat in Delhi.
Walking in to the centre at a time when the Indians were facing an uphill task, which translated into a looming defeat after the departure of his skipper shortly after, it took a remarkable display of temperament, athleticism and clear-thinking for him to pull the hosts to the brink of a win. The numbers in his innings might not be majestic enough to get termed a quality knock, but statistics alone do not paint the full picture in sport.
With his performances in the first two games, Pandya is fast positioning himself as an indispensable unit as an all-rounder in Dhoni's side, though he still has to be consistent in that regard in the six games that are left in the remainder of the home season.
Talking about all-rounders impressing in the second game, Kedar Jadhav recorded yet another fruitful day in office. Not only did he strike in his very first over for a second consecutive match, he top-scored for the side with a fast-paced 41 off 37 balls, playing the aggressor in the 66-run fifth-wicket stand that brought India back into the game after a series of early dismissals.
Given that the squad for India's defence of the Champions Trophy has to be a full-strength one — which means the regulars in Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja will be forcing their way back into the side — the likes of Pandya and Jadhav, as well as Axar Patel (who has been a disappointment in the series so far, mind you) will be engaging in a Darwinian war for the all-rounder's spot in the middle-order. And Pandya and Jadhav's shining performances in the two games so far will add to the selectors' headache.
The other major talking point in the home team's performance at the Kotla was veteran campaigner MS Dhoni's inability to finish yet another game. For someone who is considered a legend in the art of chasing, Dhoni certainly seems to have lost a bit of his old touch, something that fans and fellow journalists are going to be talking endlessly about until he shuts them up with the bat.
It was not as if Dhoni recorded a poor outing at the centre, nor did he fall victim to a needless shot. He was playing steadily for the first few deliveries in his innings, something that was required of him given the situation that he found himself in, and was beginning to accelerate the innings once he was settled, one boundary at a time. It ultimately took a clever change in pace, and a brilliant reflex catch by Tim Southee off his own bowling to remove 'Captain Cool' from the crease, and bring about pin-drop silence in the stadium.
Everyone experiences peaks and troughs in one's life, and Dhoni's aura as a captain and a finisher might be going through the latter at the moment. Thursday's performance barely helped him in overcoming the lows that he is currently going through, and it will certainly call for a more determined approach in the coming games, and some support from the other end as well, if he is to turn things around.
For the Black Caps however, they would have gone back to their hotel rooms in a positive state of mind for once. For the first time, they gave their reinforced bowling unit something to defend, thanks largely to vital contributions from the top order. Unlike the collapse that had marred their batting performance in the forgettable series opener, in which they were reduced to 65 for 7 at one stage, captain Kane Williamson managed to build solid partnerships at the top while rediscovering his old touch.
His century batting at his usual spot of No 3, executing 14 fours and a six to amass 118 off 128, built the foundation for a big total, even though the middle and lower-order suffered yet another brain-fade. He found able support in the ever-consistent Tom Latham, though the latter failed to record a fifty for the first time in a match in this tour. His strokes were something that the visitors had dearly missed since his 75 in the first innings at Kanpur, and his triumphant return to form by bringing up the first century in the New Zealand camp will hold key for them in the coming games.
Equally impressive was their pace attack, with the trio of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Tim Southee working in tandem to run through the opposition batting order. Boult was particularly miserly, giving away just 25 runs in two overs while taking two wickets (his economy for the most part was less than two). While the other two were a bit expensive, they managed to get the important wickets that broke the flow of runs, which was the primary reason for India's defeat as per Dhoni.
While their inclusion at Dharamsala could have made for a better fight, if not a victory, their presence in the remainder of the series, depending to an extent on the conditions, will largely be assured.
Last, but not the least, fielding was one of the biggest takeaways for both sides from the game, especially the winners. Whether it was in the form of those inside the circle preventing singles, the ones in the deep saving two to three runs by putting in extra work, or some breathtaking catches that helped bring the sides back in the game. Dhoni and Co too were on their toes in this regard for the most part, though dropping Williamson twice in his innings is something that is going to haunt them for the next couple of days.
With a sudden change in momentum in the ongoing series, with some of it going back to the visitors, things will get a lot more interesting in the coming days. While New Zealand's hopes of flying back home with at least one trophy in their luggage, the defeat might have served as a rude wake-up call for the hosts. Among the things that can be expected of them on Sunday, complacency will most certainly not be one.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 10:28 AM