The world champions are yet to beat New Zealand at Twenty20s. Three times India have scared New Zealand, and three times New Zealand have held their nerve to win. Two of those matches have come at the start of a tour that -given some creative license - is being called their final frontier. That makes it nine losses in their last 11 matches in New Zealand, following from the 2-0 and 5-2 drubbing in Tests and ODIs in 2002-03. How long before history starts playing on the minds of this extremely confident team?
Not yet, if MS Dhoni is to be believed. "I am not an angry captain," Dhoni said. "I am not too worried about the result, I am more concerned about the commitment and effort. I believe the players gave more than 100%, especially from the time Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh] and [Ravindra] Jadeja started bowling. The effort of everyone on the field was great."
Until Harbhajan and Jadeja came on to bowl, it had been a disappointing night for India. The batsmen again flattered to deceive, struggling to a total of 149; the bowlers had given away 60 runs in the first six overs. "When we got 150, most people would have thought that New Zealand would win in 15 or 16 overs," Dhoni said. "But I am really proud of the side, the way we came back after the first three or four overs. I thought Harbhajan and Jadeja were fantastic."
It didn't help that India had to do without two overs from Ishant Sharma, who injured his shoulder. In Ishant's absence, though, Irfan Pathan raised his game and, along with Zaheer Khan, brought India back. Irfan's superb comeback ended in a cruel fashion for him. His first two overs had gone for 25, Ishant was unavailable and India on the verge of defeat, when he snared Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram off two deliveries.
Brendon McCullum, who managed to hit Irfan for two boundaries in the last over, paid tribute to that spell. "The way Pathan bowled his yorkers at the end was outstanding. We had to try things a little bit different. That's why I came down the wicket in the last two or three balls, so I could put him under a little bit of pressure."
But Dhoni knows the damage had been done much earlier, when India again lost too many early wickets and retreated into a shell. The big hitting was left until too late, and that cost India. "Our batting was perhaps a backlash to the first game we played," Dhoni said. "We lost wickets quickly again. When Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] and I were batting, we were comfortably placed, scoring at 6.5 or 7 an over. We were batting well in partnership, knowing that with our batsmen to follow, we could bank on having a go in the last five or six overs. But that was reduced to maybe three overs at the end, after we lost Yuvi and Yusuf [Pathan] in quick succession."
It is a strange situation that India find themselves in. Their batsmen have lost them two matches without looking hopelessly out of touch. It's not clear whether they have underestimated the New Zealand attack, especially in the first Twenty20. Dhoni acknowledged how every batsman has been middling right from the first ball but what's missing is the application and pacing of a 20-over innings. It will help them that they move to a form of the game that, by default, demands more application.