Kane Williamson 95 in vain as Rohit Sharma bosses it in the Super Over
A fantastic game finally ended in heart-breaking fashion for New Zealand as they conceded the series
India 179 for 5 (Rohit 65, Bennett 3-54) tied with New Zealand 179 for 6 (Williamson 95, Shami 2-32)
India won the Super Over
India won the Super Over
A slow pitch and batsmen rising above it. Hamilton was a theatre of shot-making and at the end of a game where neither team had the edge until an astonishing Super Over, India came away deserving winners.
Kane Williamson made this the classic it turned out to be, scoring 95 off 48 balls - 25 of those runs were made off the normally unhittable Jasprit Bumrah, at a time when the chase was becoming unbearably close - but his team-mates let him down. Walking off the field, with the equation reading two off three balls, he would never have imagined - even having endured that bizarro World Cup final - the events that followed.
Mohammed Shami, having started the 20th over giving away a six, beat Tim Seifert not once but twice with short and wide deliveries and then bowled Ross Taylor off the last ball of the match to force a tie.
So Williamson had to take the field again. He had to summon the unreal form that helped him whack Bumrah for five fours in 12 balls in normal time. And guess what? He did. A six over square leg, made by his moving around in this crease. A four down the ground, thanks to a straight bat flying in the face of all that is holy in T20 cricket.
New Zealand made 17 in the Super Over against the best death bowler in the world. And in the end, the very end, it still wasn't enough. Rohit Sharma had to hit two sixes off the last two balls of a ridiculous game and even under that pressure one of India's greatest white-ball batsmen rose to the occasion and sent his fans - including those in the dressing room - to utter delirium.
Rohit's Big Bash
India wanting to go hard while batting first is never more apparent than when Rohit, one of the greatest timers of a cricket ball ever, starts to look for the power shots. He nailed a cut shot in the first over, but that was just a batsman taking advantage of the width he was offered. The clearer indication of Rohit wanting to boss it came in the third over when he charged at Tim Southee. It resulted in zero runs but seeing a player who knows he can hit sixes without such luxuries go in search of them indicated both his and India's mindset. They wanted a mammoth score. Rohit went on to become the first Indian to hit a half-century inside the Powerplay in a T20I, surging from 24 to 50 in the space of five Hamish Bennett deliveries that were whacked to the boundary back to back to back to back to back.
The slow pitch slowdown
Such high-quality hitting made Hamilton seem like a batter's paradise, but as soon as fielders could be put on its sizeable boundaries - Rohit had to clear 80m for a straight six - and New Zealand resorted to a consistent barrage of slower balls, the truth came to light. Even Rohit could only make only 15 off his last 17 deliveries before being dismissed by a change-up, Bennett's knuckle ball giving him vindication.
Ish Sodhi was excellent in these conditions. He changed his pace virtually every ball so that he wouldn't be lined up. He stuck tight on off stump when he wanted to build pressure, and then dangled one wide outside to try and get wickets. There were even times when he bowled with a round-arm action. Anything to stay unpredictable as he finished his spell with only two boundaries.
With Sodhi (4-0-23-0), Colin de Grandhomme (2-0-13-1) and Bennett recovering well (14 in his last two overs), New Zealand were battling back hard, but Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey whacked Southee for 18 runs in the final over to swing the game in India's favour again.
Virtually all of his runs came in the period when it was extremely hard to bat, while dealing with an asking rate that rarely dipped below ten. To do something like that, you have to be very good, very prepared and very tuned in. The first bit is universally accepted. Williamson will go on to occupy the space next to the late great Martin Crowe in Kiwi hearts. The second and third - the effort he puts into them - were on bright display on Wednesday night.
Especially in the battle against Bumrah.
Prior to this game, the head-to-head went: 28 runs off 34 balls and a dismissal as well. At Seddon Park, it went topsy turvy. Williamson hit 36 off 16 and among them were shots of the highest, and purest, quality. In the penultimate over, for example, he hit a fast, searing pin-point yorker for four to fine leg. And all it required was a little roll of his wrists.
Williamson has made a career out of this - of staying so cool in the middle that he is in a position to do the simple things right when it matters most. Remember that six off Pat Cummins in the 2015 World Cup? Or that run-out from silly mid-on to win the game against Australia? On Wednesday night, he coupled that by moving around in his crease and his former coach Mike Hesson, who was on commentary, suggested there was sound reason for it. Bumrah, when he bowls slower balls, likes to keep them outside off stump and away from the bat swing. Williamson read that trend and countered it brilliantly. So much so that he performed the role of aggressor in a partnership with de Grandhomme, who is supposed to be the lower-order dasher. Forty-four of the 49 runs for the fourth wicket came off the New Zealand captain's bat - all the while maintaining a run rate of nearly ten an over.
"They probably deserved to finish the game off," Virat Kohli said at the presentation. "I thought we were down and out. We were gone at one stage"
But Shami found a way to dismiss Williamson off the third ball of the final over - caught behind trying to access his favourite third man area - then, with New Zealand needing one run off the last ball, worked up his pace and targeted Taylor's stumps to force the tie.
"We came up with the fact we had to try and hit the stumps," Kohli said. "Otherwise it's a single anyway and we'd lose the game."
Given a lifeline, India looked to their best six-hitter and Rohit did not disappoint. He could only mistime the first couple of balls he faced, trying to slog across the line, but when it was all on the line, he went back to his best self, the one that holds still at the crease and hits through the line. Southee made the mistake of bowling length - aka the perfect invitation to be whacked out of the ground - and Rohit took full toll.
"I think Rohit was outstanding today," Kohli said. "The first half and the last two balls as well. We knew if he gets one hit then the bowler is under pressure. He is such a clean striker."
After the presentation, Rohit was seen perched on one of the advertising boards, still in full gear, including the helmet, and virtually everyone in an India shirt went up to him and shook his hand. He just looked dazed, as if he couldn't believe what he had just done, as if, after more than ten years in international cricket, he had surprised himself with how good he really is.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo