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September 16, 2007
"I didn't want to bowl to [Virender] Sehwag, that's why poor Jeetan [Patel] had to do it [bowl within the Powerplay]," Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, admitted rather candidly after his team had seen off an incredible onslaught from the Indian openers to sail home by ten runs. That might sound like a captain throwing his lesser men to the front to face the music, but in truth it was Vettori's inspirational performance - with the ball and as the captain - that prevented New Zealand from going down for the second time in successive days.
A target of 191 was a challenging one, but the way Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir began, it seemed they'd knock it down in 15 overs. "We absolutely felt the pressure," Vettori said about the early overs in the field, when Sehwag and Gambhir, the Indian openers, hammered 67 from the first five. "We couldn't slow it down. It was almost a case of waiting for those six overs to be over, so we could squeeze them a little bit. Our opening bowlers have been hit twice in a row now, have to work on it."
Shuffling his bowlers desperately in the hope of a breakthrough - there was an eight-over period in which six different bowlers were tried - Vettori tossed the ball to Jacob Oram, who promptly responded with the wicket of Sehwag. Vettori marshalled his team well on the field to stifle India. "A lot of the Twenty20 game is backing instincts and hunches and I think it worked particularly well today, especially with swapping myself and Jeetan around, mixing it up to their left and right-hand combinations."
After Vettori pressed himself into the attack, things spiralled downward for India. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain, said the team needed to have wickets in hand for the last few overs. "[Considering] the start we got, we should have won. We made the same mistakes that we did in the first game. We kept losing wickets," Dhoni said. "If you lose wickets at regular intervals and you don't have a tail that can really bat or slog, you have to be calculative. If we had wickets at the end, it would have been an easy game. I had to play a kind of game that doesn't come naturally to me. Somebody had to be there throughout the innings around whom the others could have played."
Vettori himself was magnificent with the ball. "The wicket suited me. It didn't turn a lot but it sat on the wicket, which is difficult for batsmen who like little bit of pace. The people are learning that the more you take wickets, the more chances you have. If you sit back and be defensive, it is going to hurt you.
"The only thing I've got is change of pace," he said rather modestly after the match, but that was enough to completely halt a side which is supposed to have the best players of spin. His masterly over variations in pace were particularly apparent in two dismissals: Gambhir was completely deceived by a slower one as he charged down the track and had to wait to play the pull, which he ultimately gloved to the wicketkeeper; Irfan Pathan was done in by the quick arm-ball, as he backed away and was far too late on his shot.
India's best bowler on view too was their main spinner, Harbhajan Singh. Add that to the manner in which the premier fast bowlers were smashed around, and it's clear that in Johannesburg at least, the slow bowlers have far more going for them.
The lack of movement - in the air and off the pitch - is the perfect invitation for batsmen to hit through the line, and on a lightning-quick outfield even the edges have been rewarded handsomely. Shane Bond failed to find his direction and struggled to keep his wits about him as Gambhir launched into a fearful assault in his second over. Luckily for him, New Zealand will play their next two games in the more seamer-friendly conditions in Durban.
The manner in which India floundered in the last five overs with both bat and ball will be a cause for worry. "Death bowling has been a area of concern, both in England and here," Dhoni admitted. India's score of 67 without loss after five was 31 more than New Zealand's 36 for 1, while after 15 overs New Zealand were only 112 for 5 to India's 135 for 5.
New Zealand, though, had Craig McMillan and Jacob Oram around to bail them out. Both played some audacious strokes, backed their ability, targeted specific bowlers, and managed 78 in the last five.
India, on the other hand, let slip the momentum after that amazing start, in a manner which also suggested the rest of the batsmen weren't sure about the approach to take in the run-chase. One more dominant innings after the opening partnership would have sealed the game, but most of the middle order chose the singles option, which meant the asking rate mounted. And when a few more wickets fell in the middle overs, the game spiralled beyond their control.
India's defeat leaves them with the unenviable task of winning at least one of their next two matches, against England and South Africa, and then hoping other results and the net run rate goes their way. Dhoni, however, remained upbeat. "The direct hits were very crucial. The start we got was amazing. Even with the new ball, we were good when they were looking to go after us. It was a close game, not outplayed. We shouldn't be thinking too much about the things that went wrong, though we must learn from them."
India have a two-day break before back-to-back games in Durban which will decide how much longer they stay on in the tournament. New Zealand, meanwhile, have got off to just the start they would have wanted in their quest for a semi-final berth.
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