New Zealand denied India a perfect finish to their highly successful Down Under tour by clinching the T20 series 2-1 with a narrow four-run win in the series-deciding third at Hamilton. India had earlier won a historic Test and ODI bilateral series win in Australia before recording their biggest ODI series win on New Zealand soil. India needed to knock off a stiff 213-run target to bring curtains on a memorable three-month tour in a befitting manner but fell just short.
Exploiting batting friendly conditions at the small Seddon Park ground, New Zealand cut the Indian attack to shreds to post an imposing 212 for four. Krunal Pandya was the most expensive of the Indian bowlers, bleeding 54 runs in his four-over quota. If it was not for left-arm Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (2/26)’s tight bowling in the middle-overs and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1/37), India would have got a bigger target to chase.
India captain Rohit Sharma, who usually bats explosive in such situations, made an uncharacteristical 32-ball 38 and it also hurt India’s chances. Vijay Shankar (43 off 28) played a useful knock though at the top after Shikhar Dhawan (5) fell early. Rishabh Pant (28 off 12) and Hardik Pandya (21 off 11) infused some life into India’s chase with some brutal hitting but perished while trying to keep up with a steep scoring rate. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (2 off 4) also could not do much.
India needed 16 runs off the final over and Dinesh Karthik (33 not out off 16) after taking a double off the first ball, stunned the crowd and his teammates by refusing to take a single in the third ball. Krunal (26 not out off 30) had reached the striker’s end but Karthik did not run, sending his partner back. This was after umpire did not give a clear wide bowled by Tim Southee. Karthik could only manage a single off the next ball as Southee bowled a straight ball. By then, the match had clearly slipped out of India’s hands. Both Karthik and Krunal did exceedingly well to take the game into the final over but their unbeaten 63-run stand off 28 balls did not prove to be enough. New Zealand bowlers fared much better than India, consistently hitting the short-of-length, which proved to be key on this small ground. The runs came at a steady rate with just an odd boundary coming in between.
Pant though changed the pace of Indian innings with his scintillating batting. It rained sixes as the Delhi left-hander took Sodhi and Santner to cleaners. But debutant Blair Tickner ended his stay and Hardik too began and ended his innings in the same fashion.