New Zealand are, for all intents and purposes, not a side any would take lightly regardless of format. But true to the nature of their petulant critics who can’t think of them any better than being underdogs. Black Caps are hardly given a chance when it comes to locking horns with a top opposition, especially a side that holds a sizeable advantage of playing at home, one ferried by the indomitable Virat Kohli.
Have there not been handy examples of the kind of damage New Zealanders have already extolled upon India? Proving that 2016’s tour of India was no aberration or a one-off show, stars like Tom Latham, one can clearly see, have picked up from where they left the last time around when Ashwin, B. Kumar and company were lifted to many striking hits in a pan-India exhibition of pure batting class.
But Latham, fresh from a 39 off 36 in the 1st T20 would not be the only force that India would look to contain in the deciding T20 at Thiruvananthapuram. Look at New Zealand’s like Santner, who have marvelled in a star-studded lineup boasting of a Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson.
However, Santner’s 27 off 14 might not look threatening at first instance, until you dug deep to discover that the languidly walking left-hander can strike the ball from the pulp of his blade to register strike rates of over 190.
Just that, purely from New Zealand’s point of view, Santer would want lower order batting swashbuckler and bowling partner Gradnhomme to come good with the bat in the last T20 about to undergo in some hours.
But this relatively free-hitting spree of New Zealand batsmen, most noticeably powered by Colin Munro, whose time one thinks has come having struck not one but two T20 centuries in a single calendar year.
In a lighter vein, when most sides are usually caught thinking about revamping their strategies when touring this part of Asia, Colin Munro’s bat, one reckons, begins chanting about the opportunities the sub-continent offers. Proving to his New Zealand captain Williamson that his 52-ball ton versus Bangladesh earlier this year was no flight of fancy, Munro has rewarded the faith of selectors and crushed Kohli’s frontline pace attack by striking a scintillating 58-ball 109.
To add insult to injury no Indian bowler, whether death over specialist Bumrah or run-rate container Chahal were able to remove Munro until the very end of his glitzy run-fest at Rajkot just days earlier.
How would Kohli react to Munro’s form? Will there be mid-over discussions with Dhoni in tandem, we will have to wait and see.
This brings us to the predicament of India’s bowlers who have marginally looked over-reliant on new ball bowler and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.
Not the most reliable force in motion when it comes to cavorting across the bowling line, the young right-armer has kept up with a tight line and length having conceded no more than 2 extras in the form of no-balls from the two T20 games so far.
But he would depend on some consistency from the spinners, India running no short of any with both Patel and Chahal finding themselves in the ranks to work up some magic against New Zealand. And thus far, eliciting sharp turn on slow pitches that have offered gorgeous meat of runs to New Zealand’s batsmen, both Chahal and Patel, it has to be said, have put up a clean fight where the previous ties are concerned.
But that said, the only area that might draw some ire from Virat Kohli would be the kind of form that Hardik Pandya has exhibited. With a solitary New Zealand wicket to his credit and being pummelled for 11 and 14 runs an over from the two T20 games respectively might not offer a great deal of hope with the Kiwi batsmen repetitively stepping out of the crease to the medium pacer when not using his pace to direct the ball into the stands.
But this is T20 cricket where fortunes change within a spate of a good couple of deliveries. Where Southee and Boult have seemingly bowled a disciplined line unwavering from the decided line on middle and off, Kohli’s bat has offered sublime treatment; is that 65 off 42 the best T20 knock of his career thus far, we ought to know!
But what will be interesting to know, however, is if Thiruvananthapuram, that last hosted an international tie nearly three decades back can offer some respite to New Zealand from their deciding game blues, the Kiwis coming dearly close to toppling India the last they played in India, exactly a year ago. For that and more, we’ll have to see whose blade is looking cherrier red, Kohli’s or Williamson’s?