Two convincing wins achieved on the same pitch that behaved completely differently in the two matches in Eden Park have given India a vice-like grip over New Zealand in the Twenty20 International series.
This dream start to the multi-format tour is indicative of the mindset and fighting spirit of this Indian team. I was impressed by what Virat Kohli said leading into the series — that despite a hard-fought three-match ODI series against Australia, the long flight to Auckland, the short turnaround time and entirely different conditions, his side wasn’t going to be looking for excuses, that they would be switched on from ball one of the first T20I.
That speaks to the attitude of the unit as a whole and it manifested itself in the brand of cricket they played over the weekend. The first game called for a furious assault on a target of 204, the second needed a more pragmatic approach after New Zealand were restricted to 132. India was clinical in both encounters, the same set of batsmen delivering the goods.
It wasn’t the usual match-winners who came up trumps. Instead, and heart-warmingly with the larger picture in mind, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer reinforced their coming of age at this level, taking up the responsibility of piloting the side home. Rahul’s talent has never been in doubt since he broke through towards the end of 2014. He seemed to have lost his way a bit but in the last few months, since being dropped from the Test team, he has gone back and had a hard look at himself and returned stronger, more organised and in control of his plans.
He played differently in the two chases, which also means he is situationally more tuned in, and like a true match-winner, didn’t throw it away before the job was done.
Shreyas is blossoming with every outing, and the surety and composure with which he was able to play the aerial strokes point to confidence, which comes from a sense of belonging within the team set-up. He has made a telling impression at the pivotal No. 4 position through a fusion of flair, flamboyance and lots of swag and will only be better for the last two hits.
One can’t, of course, forget Jasprit Bumrah’s contributions with the ball. No praise can be too high for his control, and for almost intuitively figuring out the areas that will make each batsman uncomfortable.
In another encouraging sign, the bowling group as a whole lifted itself at Eden Park on Sunday, giving New Zealand no respite whatsoever.