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Sidharth Monga in Christchurch
February 25, 2009
In the last Twenty20 international he played, Brendon McCullum scored 61 off 47 balls. That game, against Australia in Sydney, earned New Zealand the displeasure of their captain Daniel Vettori at the way they chased 151 and lost by one run.
Facing another below-par target here, McCullum was slower, hitting 56 off 49 balls. This time, the two were smiling after the match as New Zealand finally strung up a win following a three-match losing streak in Australia.
McCullum seems to have taken up the senior batsman's responsibility and has curbed his aggressive instincts to anchor an inexperienced batting line-up. Today, he was returned the favour by the other batsmen, especially Martin Guptill, who surprised India with an onslaught after the fall of an early wicket.
"Measured is the word for it," McCullum said of his innings. "Probably not the most fluent innings I have played. But in the context, and the fact that we had such power at the other end, I was fortunate to be able to hang around and move around for a few singles.
"The way Martin batted up front and the way he put pressure back on them was fantastic. They [other batsmen] did play with a lot of confidence. Ross [Taylor] has been playing well for a long time and Jacob [Oram] is very experienced."
The four were largely responsible for the smile returning to their captain's face after the disappointment of Sydney but Vettori was also pleased with Iain O'Brien and Ian Butler, who pegged India back after a frenetic start.
"We thought we'd have to chase 300 for the first time in a Twenty20," Vettori said. "We knew that's the way India were going to play. They are very aggressive. They are going to put us under pressure throughout the series. So I'm pleased to see that the guys fronted against it. But it was reasonably daunting at the start.
"And then [during] the chase, Brendon was the rock, and Martin, Ross and Jacob played around him. Couldn't really have many complaints."
As in the lead-up to the first match, New Zealand are abstaining from any mind games. Other captains would have been tempted to open old wounds after welcoming a team not known to performing well away with a clinical performance. But Vettori is an unfussy cricketer and knows too well that such salvos don't amount to much. He didn't claim any psychological advantage for the rest of the tour after this game.
"I heard MS Dhoni's comments that this is the first game of many," Vettori said. "You turn out fresh for the game and you expect to win, no matter the state of the series. The thing is, the guys will take a lot of confidence form this. Martin Guptill continues to impress. So he will be feeling good. And a lot of other guys. But each game is a separate entity."
New Zealand have, for the second time in a row, have made a confident start to a series. Like the ODI series in Australia, they have set this up beautifully. Unlike against Australia, they would want to finish India off in two days' time instead of waiting for the opposition to make mistakes.
And, whether they talk it up or not, New Zealand will know a 2-0 loss in the Twenty20s cannot be a good start for a team that failed miserably the last time they were here.
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