#IndvsNZ: It

Photo: PTI

#IndvsNZ: It's do or die, Indian batsmen can't afford to go sleepwalking again

G Rajaraman

The defeat

  • India lost to New Zealand by 47 runs in their opening ICC World Twenty20 game in Nagpur

  • Chasing 127 for a win on a turning track, India folded for 79

The blame

  • The batsmen must take the rap for not showing the stomach for a fight against the disciplined Kiwis

  • Openers Dhawan and Sharma seemed to be arrogant, and most of the others seemed clueless about what approach to take

More in the story

  • How the India vs Pakistan encounter in Kolkata on 19 March is do or die for India

  • What could MS Dhoni have done differently to prevent this defeat?

It was a study in contrasts - India's sleepwalking batsmen versus New Zealand's daring, fearless and battling team effort in the opening Super 10s game of the ICC World Twenty20 in Nagpur on Tuesday.

The Black Caps gave India a taste of their own medicine through spin trio Nathan McCullum, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi. That India lost nine wickets to spin made for sad commentary, even on a pitch like the raging turner laid out at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha. Whether the pitch was a worthy platform for international cricket is a question for another day, though it's unlikely many will agree it was.

But blaming the pitch is not enough. India's famed batting line-up must take the rap, because it just didn't seem to have the stomach for a fight. When even Suresh Raina's part-time off-spin had proven extremely effective, did the Indian batsmen expect the track to improve significantly?

Pundits always say that chasing smallish totals can be tricky, especially if the pitch has something to support a bowler's guile and skill. The urgency in India's approach defied the situation and the environment in which the Kiwi spinners were a handful.

India's batting line-up must take the rap, because it didn't seem to have the stomach for a fight

Of course, Indian cricket teams have been laid low by visiting spinners, before but this defeat will, and should, rankle quite a bit. The 47-run defeat showed up the inability of the Indian batsmen to assess the situation and adapt their game plan to the conditions. The punishment for the 'we-will-dominate-no-matter-what' countenance was quite swift and severe.

How each batsman lost the plot

Some will interpret the openers' intent as bordering on arrogance.

It was apparent that Shikhar Dhawan had not observed the sluggish pace of the pitch during his time on the field, no matter how far he was from the square. He had finished playing an expansive sweep off McCullum when the ball struck his pad.

Rohit Sharma's walk down the track to rookie left-arm spinner Santner's second delivery invited further trouble for the home side.

The openers' intent was arrogant. Dhawan didn't seem to have observed the pitch while on the field

The rest of the batting collapsed like a house of cards: Virat Kohli to what would have been an imperious square drive, Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja to strokes that were neither defensive not completely aggressive. Suffice to say, the response of the middle-order was quite thoughtless.

Raina's fall was a shocker. Considering that he had a full complement of four overs with the ball during New Zealand's innings, the team would have expected him to use that experience when at the batting crease. However, playing a shot too early, Raina joined Dhawan and Sharma in the dug-out, leaving India a mountain to climb.

Kohli seemed unruffled by the fall of two wickets in Santner's opening over, but when Yuvraj Singh was caught and bowled by McCullum, he himself had to dig in and play till the very end. The introduction of leg-spinner Sodhi ended any such determination. He was lured to attempt a drive off the very first delivery and was caught behind.

laying more as batsmen in this game, Pandya and Jadeja were fish out of water, not having any clue either about the track or Santner and Sodhi's bowling.

Dhoni infused a flicker of hope during his partnership with R Ashwin, but it was evident that the inability of India's specialist batsmen to counter the conditions had let the team down.

Two key questions

There are two other questions that crop up.

a) Would India have been served better by an extra batsman on a pitch that appeared designed for slow bowlers and would prove be a challenge for stroke-players?

On the basis of Tuesday's showing, that may have made little difference. It will be interesting to know if India considered Harbhajan Singh or Pawan Negi ahead of Hardik Pandya.

b) More importantly, did MS Dhoni miss a trick in getting Pandya rather than Yuvraj Singh to bowl an over?

Even if two left-handers were at the crease, his logic of not using the extra left-arm spinner did not work for him. New Zealand did well to retain enough wickets to be able to score 48 runs in the final six overs, starting with Pandya's 10-run over.

Pak clash gains extra importance

Yet, it was the Indian batting that let the team down on Tuesday. Surely, they are better than the way they came across on Tuesday night. But with an emotionally tough game against Pakistan looming on the horizon, they will have to get their act together, if the team is to stay afloat.

Not for the first time, India realised that when the shoe is on the other foot, it can hurt a lot.

India have surrendered the momentum of coming into the tournament with 10 wins in 11 games. The other defeat had come in Pune, where Sri Lanka's seam bowlers caught the home batsmen by surprise on a greenish track. For the second time this season, India's opening game on return after a successful overseas expedition came a cropper.

India's remaining games in the Super10s stage against Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia now acquire do-or-die status.

Dhoni and Team Director Ravi Shastri will bank on the team showing character in the face of odds.

Of course, that is not beyond the bunch that came into the tournament favoured to win at home, but the batsmen cannot afford to go sleepwalking again.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

G Rajaraman