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When the Kiwis played into India’s hands
The Black Caps’ first mistake in the second Twenty20 against India came when Kane Williamson won the toss and did exactly what his opposite Virat Kohli wanted him to do.
As Indian batsman Shreyas Iyer said after helping his side complete an emphatic seven-wicket win: “We are always going to chase, because that is our strength”. In playing to India’s strengths at Eden Park, by electing to bat first then only posting 132-5, New Zealand now needs to win three matches in a row to take thefive-match series.
Going back to the start of the last Twenty20 World Cup, which it hosted, India has won the toss 26 times and elected to chase on 24 occasions, winning 17 of those matches, including Friday night’s series opener, and losing five (the other two were abandoned).
It has been asked by its opponents to chase a further eight times, winning six of those matches, including on Sunday, and losing two. Overall, India has posted a 23-7 record while chasing in that time, compared to 18-12 when setting a target.
It is undoubtedly a strong team from top to bottom, and stronger when it is up against a Black Caps’ attack that is missing its best two bowlers (Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson) and two others who might have been next in line if fit (Doug Bracewell and Adam Milne).
But it is stronger even still when it gets to play the way it wants – with a target in sight and a clear plan in its heads.
The flipside is that New Zealand hasn’t fared well when chasing since the start of the last World Cup, winning just four times out of 14, compared to 15 times out of 25 when batting first. Conditions obviously play a part in the team’s decisions – as they did on Sunday, where it expected the pitch to get slower and tougher to bat on as the game went on – but it has batted first in 12 of the 18 matches where it won the toss since the World Cup. Those numbers suggest it has a preference too, though it’s not as one-sided as India’s, and now that it is 0-2 down, it might have to step out of its comfort zone if the toss goes its way at Seddon Park.
The decision to bat first on Sunday looked slightly more puzzling after the match when Martin Guptill said of Eden Park: “It’s just one of those grounds that is hard to defend runs on”.
The context was that he was trying to explain the Black Caps’ poor T20 record at the venue – it has now won just six times in 21 outings – but it rang true, as it has twice failed to defend 200 there, something that’s only happened on 10 other occasions in the history of Twenty20 internationals.
Guptill had pegged 170 as the mark the Black Caps needed to get to, but they ended up about 40 runs short, only managing to score 64 in the final 68 balls of their innings, after Colin Munro departed in the ninth over to leave them 68-2. As India finished with a flurry, reaching the target midway through the 18th over, it was clear it had played within themselves, so even 170 might not have been enough.