IND vs NZ 2nd T20: India square series on square turner

For the second consecutive time in this T20I series, India and New Zealand got a pitch where it gripped and turned. But unlike Ranchi, where competent batsmen of spin could find runs, Lucknow was a furnace for batsmen. Anyone who could bowl spin was in with a chance of taking a wicket. That seamers bowled only 9.5 off the 39.5 overs, and India reached the target of 100 runs with just a ball to spare, would tell the story.

The pitch took out an even contest between bat and ball. You could argue that in T20s the balance of the game is heavily tilted in batsmen’s favour. But it is what the format dictates. Thousands of people sacrifice their evenings to turn up at a stadium or switch their television sets or open their OTT platforms to watch batsmen teeing off from the start.

It is the format at the forefront of cricket’s changing landscape – where even teams are getting to play even aggressively in Tests – and one where the batsmen are constantly breaking the barriers, a format that has provided innovative shots and deliveries than ever before.

It has largely been possible because the groundsmen take demons out of the pitch, where they give the batsmen the ideal conditions to prosper. But at Lucknow, they had served what former India batsman Gautam Gambhir called a “sub-standard pitch” on Star Sports studio.

Not without a reason, as not a single six was hit in the match. Unlike Tests and the ODIs where the characteristics of the pitches tend to vary from country to country, the unaccepted universal code for T20s is to roll out a flat deck. For a team that is looking to embrace a dynamic batting approach the last thing they wanted was a rank turner.

This was a pitch where India would have preferred having Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli in their top three rather than Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan and Rahul Tripathi. In 2015 as England pressed a reset button in limited-overs, one of the key aspects that often goes unnoticed was the revamping of seaming pitches into batting paradises. The curators dished out light brown pitches with plenty of runs on it and the right set of players – finger spinners, wrist-spinners, hit-the-deck pacers – to make the most out of the conditions. Fours years later, they won the World Cup.

India are wading through a similar phase, where they had opted for aggressive batsmen rather than anchors. In the ODIs, they precisely got the sort of pitches where could come out of their shell and play free-flowing cricket. It allowed their batters to be more expressive, commit to more shots than they usually do and score at a better run-rate. It is the model they would prefer in T20s as well, especially as bilateral T20I series are harnessed to build a team for the next T20 World Cup.

Shocker: Pandya

Instead they got a pitch which captain Hardik Pandya described as a shocker. “To be honest, it was a shocker of a wicket. Both the games we have played on so far. I don’t mind difficult wickets. I am all up for that, but these two wickets are not made for T20. Somewhere down the line the curators should make sure they prepare the pitches earlier,” Pandya said at the post-match address without mincing his words.

It was a pitch where there was a bit of grass in the middle and baldness in the full length area on either side. At the toss Pandya said he did not know what to expect, but benching Umran Malik for Yuzvendra Chahal threw a clue as to what he was expecting. With Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar also around, it proved to be the biggest difference in the end as India’s spinners out-bowled their counterparts, who generously bowled a few full-tosses.

Just like first T20I, Pandya started with himself before he turned to the three spinners and the part time off-spin of Deepak Hooda ahead of pacers Arshdeep Singh and Shivam Mavi. With Washington, Chahal and Kuldeep bowling in the first-half of the innings, New Zealand struggled. They lost their first three wickets – Finn Allen, Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips – to reverse-sweeps. All three were early into their shot. While the need of the hour was to take the innings deep by rotating the strike and shelving the big shots, the scoreboard pressure induced undue risks, which meant they ended up with 99, at least 20-25 short of a par-total.

It was no different when India batted. On one occasion Tripathi tried to play a late cut and by the time the ball met the bat, his head had already moved from left to right and his eye-line was in line with the third-man fielder. But somehow they huffed and puffed to the target.

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