India finally tasted success against the team that has been their Achilles heel for long in this format when they outplayed butter-fingered New Zealand by 53 runs in the first Twenty20 International in Delhi.
At the end of the lopsided game that was also veteran seamer Ashish Nehra’s last in competitive cricket, hosts India sauntered to a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Fittingly, Delhi players Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan carried Nehra on their shoulders after the win. This was India’s first win against the Kiwis in six T20 outings. New Zealand innings ended at 149 for eight.
The game was marked by openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma’s blazing half-centuries, during which they produced an Indian record of 158-run partnership to power the team to a formidable 202 for three, and Nehra’s last waltz, of course.
And, any attempt to decorate with superlatives Hardik Pandya’s catch to dismiss Martin Guptill, would be an understatement.
When India batted, both Dhawan and Sharma were dismissed after scoring 80 runs, before skipper Virat Kolhi (26 not out off 11 balls) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (7 not out) guided India past 200 with their power hitting.
Set a daunting target of 203 in the allotted 20 overs, New Zealand were off to a poor start as they lost Guptill in the second over.
It was a stunner from Pandya, who sprinted from long-off into what looked like a no man’s land and pulled off the unbelievable catch with a full-length dive and outstretched hands, and a slide that continued for a while even after the ball was in his safe hands.
Starting the proceedings for India with the ball, Nehra came close to picking up a wicket in his farewell game, but Pandya could not latch on to this one after making a valiant attempt running backwards from cover.
Eventually, Nehra, also bowling the day’s final over, returned respectable figures of none for 29 in his four-over spell. Not able to control his emotion, an excited fan of his entered the ground to touch Nehra’s feet.
Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm spinner Axar Patel finished with two wickets apiece.
Earlier, Dhawan and Sharma struck scintillating half-centuries during a record partnership to power India.
This is India’s biggest partnership for any wicket, eclipsing the previous best of 138 held by Kohli and Sharma, against South Africa in 2015.
Invited to bat after the coin landed in New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson’s favour, India were off to a brisk start and upped the tempo as overs passed by in veteran seamer Ashish Nehra’s final competitive game.
The packed crowd at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium was treated to some delightful as well as unorthodox cricketing shots by Dhawan and his opening partner Rohit Sharma.
Sharma, who got a reprieve on 16, slammed six sixes and four boundaries in his 55-ball knock. While the left-handed Dhawan, who represents Delhi in the domestic circuit, blazed his way to 80 off only 52 balls, hitting 10 fours and two sixes.
While Dhawan nearly lost his wicket while getting to his fifty, Sharma brought up the landmark with a six straight over the top of left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner.
Dhawan started the innings with a flurry of boundaries flicking one through mid-wicket, hit Trent Boult for boundaries on either side of the wicket and then sliced Tim Southee for same result.
Dhawan was offered a life when he was dropped at point off Boult, and luck also smiled on Sharma who was dropped on long off by Southee. The Mumbaikar was bating on 16 then, and if his eventual score was any indication, the visitors paid a huge price.
Even as Dhawan found the fence from the word go with consummate ease, Sharma switched gears after getting his eye in and then dealt in fours and sixes.
Colin Munro was hit over long-on for a six and having gained in confidence, sat on one knee and smashed Boult as the ball sailed over the fence behind fine leg. Sharma’s first big hit of the innings was a slashed six over third man off Southee.
The Indians were on a roll with both Dhawan and Sharma going great guns.
Meanwhile, Dhawan launched into spinner Ish Sodhi for a six over his head and followed that up with a boundary. The left-hander then hit Southee over the midwicket for another maximum.