FEBRUARY 8, 2020
Brief Scorecard: New Zealand 273 for 8 (Guptill 79, Taylor 73*, Jadeja 1-35) beat India (Jadeja 55, Iyer 52, Saini 45, Southee 2-41) by 22 runs
All the hype around him was that he could bowl fast.
Only here he was staring down a bouncer with a glint in his eye and dispatching it over point for six. Not long after that, he hit boss mode, getting down on one knee and scooping the seam bowlers for four.
India were down and out at 153 for 7 in the 32nd over. And then their No. 9 had an identity crisis. Dude batted like he was ruddy Kevin Pietersen, making four times the runs his List A average of 12 suggests.
If that doesn’t prove there is magic about Eden Park, nothing would.
There were so many instances of players rising above the ruin to keep this game alive. Ross Taylor’s freakish, unbeaten 73 followed on from a collapse of 7 for 55. Ravindra Jadeja battled like he had been to the future and seen that he would score a half-century himself. Nothing he did, or said, or presented gave even the slightest hint that he ever thought this chase was beyond him. This after a 10-over spell where he gave away only three boundaries.
New Zealand’s ninth wicket partnership scared up 76 runs in 51 balls. India’s eighth wicket-partnership – at the height of an impossible chase – made 76 off 86.
Sheesh! Eden Park just cannot deal with even the idea of a boring cricket match. This one ended with New Zealand wining by the skin of their teeth and taking the series 2-0.
The tension was unbelievable. And rather more apparent on the hosts, who may well have felt those twitches that a Super Over brings. They needed three wickets when India needed 121 off 113 balls. Plenty of time. Just stick to the plan.
Jadeja kept pinching singles. Saini twisted his body into every which way to protect his stumps. The equation reduced to 85 off 60. By now, New Zealand had run out of fit players – Mitchell Santner and Scott Kuggeleijn were unwell and many of their first-choice picks including Kane Williamson, who was at the ground, and Trent Boult were still recovering from injury. So their assistant coach Luke Ronchi was yanked out of the dressing room and stuck on the field.
Meanwhile, Jadeja was doing the MS Dhoni thing, biding his time, pinching twos in the 30-yard circle while the fielders were panicking in the deep. He didn’t seem to mind that the required rate was at 9.7 and the reason for that became immediately apparent when Saini tonked Colin de Grandhomme for three fours in the over, and then sheepishly giggling when his partner would come up to punch gloves.
But then, just as it looked like the most improbable finish was on the cards – Saini scoring a fifty and simultaneously unlocking the secret to human flight – a rookie player comes up and knocks his stumps to the ground. Eden Park, man. It really likes flipping a script. That Kyle Jamieson strike paved the way to victory, and cemented his candidacy for Man of the Match award.
Though honestly, his dismissal of Prithvi Shaw should have sealed it, an incoming delivery the envy of any bowler that stormed through the batsman’s defences to wreck his stumps.
Tim Southee must have been pleased with that. He was not at all well on Saturday. He was a doubt even to play but then it became apparent that New Zealand wouldn’t even have an XI to put on the park if he took the day off. So he put on his black cap and put in a truly big-hearted performance. He wasn’t on the pitch when it all ended, raising the possibility that he bowled out well before he otherwise would have simply to go to the dressing room and rest. But, as he was leaving every single one of his team-mates raced up to him, from the captain Tom Latham to one of their best ever Taylor and even the debutant Jamieson, and patted his back.
Southee is no longer the wicket-taking machine he once was, often swinging the ball in ways that made people question basic physics. But he stands up in adversity. He leads when no one wants to. He did that in Australia when New Zealand were robbed of Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult. He did it again in Auckland, clean bowling Virat Kohli at the start of the chase to provide his team the foothold they needed to win the game.
Cricket stars: Then and now
It was beautiful to watch New Zealand execute their plan for the Indian captain. They had three slips to start and continued with at least two catchers through the first 20 balls he faced. Most experts would attest that is the period when every batter is at their most vulnerable. Also, they bowled one side of the wicket, the off side namely, and blocked out his cover drive. Kohli had made only 9 runs in this time and was eventually forced to try and drag balls into the leg side if he wanted his score to move.
This was where Southee wanted Kohli to be. He rolled out the cross-seamer. It cut in off the pitch. The batsman played around it and was bowled. However well India fought after that – and they did, with Shreyas Iyer scoring a half-century as well, that wicket, much as it did in the World Cup semi-final was crucial.
It meant New Zealand don’t have to look back so wistfully at their own batting collapse. Losing 7 for 55 had ripped away much of the tension from a game that was building up beautifully. Ha! As if such a thing is ever possible in Auckland.
Taylor killed all possibility of a dull game crop up by playing an absolute blinder. His ninth-wicket partnership with Jamieson – who scored a century while facing James Anderson and Stuart Broad in a tour game in 2018 – pretty much changed the game.
New Zealand lurched from 142 for 1 to 197 for 8 thanks to the pressure India exerted through the middle overs. And to think that was the period where they won the game in Hamilton. Taylor and Tom Latham ransacked 117 runs in overs 30-40 without even looking like losing a wicket a few days ago. Here, New Zealand stopped and stumbled and crashed and burned to 32 for 4 in that phase.
And yet, by the end of their 50 overs, New Zealand had 273 on the board and it was basically all Taylor’s doing. He might have felt he owed it to his side considering he was involved in both the run-outs that stole all the momentum away from the innings, especially the one that cost Martin Guptill his wicket when he looked well set on 79.
Taylor was 29 off 47 when New Zealand lost their eighth wicket and were looking like they wouldn’t last the remaining nine overs. A straightforward chase was on the cards and Eden Park was all set to be marred by that most awful of things – a boring cricket match.
But then that magic that surrounds this ground, which is home to the Grant Elliot miracle, the Marcus Stoinis heartbreak and the Kane Williamson fist pump, began to show itself.
Taylor was completely infused with it. Sure, 14 years in the international arena does help a guy overcome such a hopeless situation but where’s the fun in that narrative? It’s much more compelling to imagine an otherworldly force enabling Taylor to reverse-scoop the best fast bowler in the world nearly all the way for six, with the back of his bat. Jasprit Bumrah does not get treated like this. By anyone. Heck, even the new kid Jamieson was whacking fours off him at the death.
Eden Park just cannot deal with even the idea of a boring cricket match.