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Match Analysis

Sustained pressure helps India break pattern

India's tendency to lose while defending big totals in good batting conditions was halted in Kanpur because of small changes at crucial junctures

Of all the ODIs India have won in Virat Kohli's India record of seven series wins, India will be proud of winning this one the most. This was just the match India usually lose - the pitch was not slow, the outfield was fast, the dew was in, and the bowlers faltered. More recently, there has been a trend that the batsmen find themselves in on a really good batting track and for some reason - perhaps it is the shaky middle order, perhaps this is the way they bat by eliminating risk - they bat within themselves and leave 20 or so runs out there.
Whatever be the reason, these high-scoring matches - especially batting first - have been India's weakness of late. It happened three games in a row in Australia in 2015-16 that the batsmen didn't push themselves as hard as they could and the bowlers came up short. Especially when two of the top-order batsmen make big runs, India leave themselves vulnerable. They set themselves up to play the long innings, the middle overs are not punished as much as they should be, and with five men out in the last 10 overs, teams sometimes find a way to crawl back into the contest. For years before that, the bowlers would anyway falter.
In Kanpur, in the decider, though, the batsmen didn't make that mistake. They had to start cautiously because of the threat Trent Boult posed. Then they realised the pitch was not slow and knew there would be massive dew in the evening. Yet there was gradual acceleration and the boundaries kept coming. Rohit Sharma went from 80 to 100 in 18 balls, hitting a six and a four off New Zealand's best bowler on the day, Mitchell Santner. This was around the 30th-over mark so it wasn't as if India needed to get the wheels on just yet.
Kohli, the other centurion in India's innings, acknowledged later how the pitch played really well for the first 40 overs or so, then slowed down, and then quickened up again once the dew took effect. During that slowdown, New Zealand pulled India back admirably, giving away just 85 runs in the last 10 overs, giving themselves a chance to win the match. Keeping that in mind, Rohit's pulling of the trigger earlier than India usually do was crucial. The 87 that India got between the 31st and 40th over is their second-highest when batting first in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup.
It was with the ball, however, that India were more impressive once they were stunned by the Colin Munro assault and then handicapped by the dew. Kohli said there was dew even when they started their defence. It was a night when Bhuvneshwar Kumar was taken for 51 in his first five. It was a night when India were without a magic spinner or an experienced name to pull things back in the middle.
Yuzvendra Chahal stood up first. He is rightly highly regarded as a defensive spinner, but this night was not about defending. On this night, he needed to buy wickets. He first realised that, and then executed that. Both his wickets came through slow loopy deliveries that turned appreciably, and more importantly drifted before they turned. Those were the wickets that made sure New Zealand didn't finish the game with plenty to spare, that they felt the pressure in the end, which resulted in their freezing a little.
Rohit was massively impressed with the character shown by the team. "Today we were under pressure at times but that is the hallmark of this team," he said, "to come back from tough situations whenever we play and respond to that situation really well. We knew that it wasn't going to be that easy because there was a lot of dew on the field. But our bowlers did exceptionally well to come back every now and then. So that's what we expect as a team from this bowling unit.
"Whenever they are put under pressure, they know how to come back. It's not happened once, it has happened many times now. It's a good thing for the team going forward. If you can respond to these situations really well and handle that situation really well, as a team you are only going to grow."
Jasprit Bumrah showed why he is considered the best death bowler in the world. His captain kept him back for six overs in the last 20, and he responded superbly except for one over. To make up for that one over was the special comeback from Bhvuneshwar, who took the wicket of Henry Nicholls and conceded just five in the 47th over. It had been just 35 required off the last four, but the two again managed to team up and drag India back.
So much are these two bowlers appreciated that Rohit was miffed when there was a suggestion in the press conference that there might still be some vulnerability in India's bowling, especially in the final few overs.
"I think we have the two best death bowlers," an annoyed Rohit said. "If you look at the last series against Australia, the way they have bowled, you have to praise them a lot. Because if you look at Australia's batting, with their power hitting, those were the two bowlers who got us back most of the times. If you see the last five matches against Australia, you can clearly see that things have been pulled back by these two guys.
"Even today there was so much dew [and] the ball was wet. To be able to defend on that kind of wicket, with two set batsmen, I thought we are talking about two best death bowlers in the world currently. So many times they have turned the game for us. On this wicket, in these conditions, only 35 required in four overs, it should have been made easily. It is only because of these two that we could pull the game back."
India did get a little lucky in the end with Colin de Grandhomme panicking and New Zealand failing to make full use of two half-volleys and five full tosses in the last two overs. But India will also know this is not all just luck. These mistakes come from sustained pressure, from reputation earned over many different wins.
India would know. They have seen their own side fail to finish off a 349 chase after having been 277 for 1 in the 38th over, in the fourth match of the aforementioned series in Australia. For once it was their bowlers pulling it back from a difficult situation on a quick pitch with little assistance for their bowlers. They will be more proud of this win than many others.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo