The price of aiming too high
India have often been accused of making slow starts to overseas tours, but no one can make that accusation this time - their first 11 balls in New Zealand went for 25 runs. Unfortunately for India, they got too greedy - the short boundaries at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch offered a temptation few of their batsmen could resist.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted after the game that they over-reached, aiming for around 220 when 190 might have been enough. "I think most of the batsmen batted brilliantly, but the mistake we committed was that we went with the momentum," Dhoni said. "Maybe one of the batsmen could have realised that we had got off to a flier ... throughout the IPL and Twenty20 games we have seen that even if you go after the bowlers for [the whole of] 20 overs, you don't score more than 220-230. So you have to figure out whether you're happy with the score of 180 or 190 or whether you look for those extra 25 runs, which you might not actually need, and instead end up getting 160-odd."
In true Twenty20 spirit, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan went about their task, and in true New Zealand style the home bowlers stuck to their job. So while the hosts had moments where, as Daniel Vettori said, they thought they would end up chasing 300, they were set a below-par target of 163 by the time the lights took full effect.
Three incidents in the match summed up the teams' approach. Sehwag had smashed the first three balls he faced in New Zealand for sixes - he hit four in all during his 10-ball stay - but went for one hit too many. Rohit went for his second six in a row but got a leading edge off Ian Butler. Then, when Yusuf went for his fourth successive six off Nathan McCullum, Jacob Oram came up with a spectacular, making the entire process of flicking up the ball, crossing the boundary, coming back in and then taking the catch look extraordinarily easy. India were 32 in 3.1 overs, 54 in 5.2, and 82 in 9.4 at those junctures.
New Zealand applied the brakes with those wickets as the bowlers earned their rewards for being on target without attempting anything special. Vettori was wily as usual, giving little away, and despite Suresh Raina's cool-headed innings, there was only one favourite at the break.
Dhoni was not pleased with the way the target was assessed tonight but said it wasn't a premeditated ploy to put New Zealand under pressure right away. "One of the key things was to go into the middle with a blank mind, without a target," Dhoni said. "We wanted to play according to the merit of the ball, it was not a conscious effort to go after the bowlers and hit those big sixes."
Vettori said he had expected such an approach from India. In perfect weather conditions and a decent batting track, India brought out the pyrotechnics. New Zealand though, stayed cool in the face of the onslaught.
The loss of quick middle-order wickets proved to be the difference between the sides, but the entertainment came in abundance. It also showed the importance of quick assessment and thinking on the feet in the slap-bang format. The crowd lapped it up gleefully, and it should only get better from here on.