KL Rahul (27-ball 56), Virat Kohli (32-ball 45) and Shreyas Iyer (29-ball 58*) came to the party as India chased down the 204-run target with an over to spare to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series against New Zealand in Auckland on Friday (January 24).
Earlier, fifties from Colin Munro (42-ball 59), Kane Williamson (26-ball 51) and Ross Taylor (27-ball 54*) propelled New Zealand to 203 for 5 in their 20 overs. In reply, Rahul and Kohli took the attack to New Zealand bowlers and gave India a solid platform. Iyer then took the responsibility of getting India over the line and he did that with a perfect mixture of calmness and aggressiveness. This was the fourth time India have chased down a total of over 200.
Asked to bat, the flat surface and short boundaries at Eden Park meant that Martin Guptill and Munro had the license of going after the Indian bowlers from the word go. The former opened his account by slamming Jasprit Bumrah down the ground for four, and then Munro, who has a fantastic record against India in this format, tonked Shardul Thakur over long-off to make his intentions very clear.
The left-hander went after Thakur even in his second over, smoking him for two fours and a six. The home team went past the 50-run mark in just 4.3 overs. There was hardly any assistance for the bowlers and both Guptill and Munro made the most of it.
The two openers have solid numbers in the powerplay in this format and no other batsman has scored more runs than Guptill (1386) in the first six overs. The right-hander blasted the final delivery of the powerplay for another maximum as New Zealand managed 68 runs in the first six overs - highest for them against India in T20Is. India's fielding was also not up to the mark and just when it looked like the Kiwis would take the game away from them, in came Yuzvendra Chahal.
The legspinner, who was included in the playing XI in place of Kuldeep Yadav, managed to keep both Guptill and Munro quiet and it was Shivam Dube who reaped the reward. Guptill tried to go after the all-rounder but ended up mistiming one towards deep square leg where Rohit Sharma balanced himself to take a good catch. Guptill fell for a 19-ball 30, but only after he had got his team to a superb start.
Munro however kept going and brought up his 10th T20I fifty with a boundary off Chahal. Coming in at No. 3, Williamson announced his arrival by smoking Thakur for back-to-back sixes but the right-arm fast bowler finally had something to celebrate about when he got rid of Munro in the same over. The 32-year-old, who hit six fours and two sixes during his stay in the middle, hit one straight into the hands of Chahal at deep backward square leg. Despite the wicket, Thakur ended with figures of 1 for 44 in three overs.
The moment Munro was sent back to the hut, Virat Kohli brought in Ravindra Jadeja and the left-arm spinner dismissed Colin de Grandhomme for a duck of only his second delivery. It looked like India would manage to pull things back but Williamson and Taylor stepped up and kept the momentum going. The two added 61 runs in just 28 deliveries.
Taylor in particular was at his best as he didn't allow Jadeja to settle in, hitting him for a four and a trademark slog sweep for a maximum over deep mid-wicket. Shami too was very mediocre as he kept feeding half-volleys and half-trackers to Williamson and Taylor and the two pounced on every bad delivery. He got smoked for two fours and as many sixes in his third over. In the process, Williamson got to his 10th T20I fifty but got out to Chahal after smacking him for three fours in his last over.
New Zealand could have scored a lot more if not for Bumrah. The right-arm paceman didn't allow Taylor to open his shoulders in his last two overs but the middle-order batsman did manage to bring up his fifty - his first in six years.
India needed a solid start from their openers but the ploy of bowling Mitchell Santner early paid dividends for the home side. Rahul greeted Santner with a boundary towards extra cover, while Rohit Sharma (7) chipped him over long-on for a maximum. However, the left-arm spinner got his revenge on the very next delivery as Rohit tried to heave him over mid-wicket but ended up top-edging it and the ballooned straight into the hands of Taylor at backward point.
The onus was once again on India's most in-form T20I batsmen - Rahul and Kohli - to keep them in the game and the two didn't disappoint. The two didn't allow any bowler to settle in and found the right balance between strike rotation and fours and sixes.
Despite Kohli striking at over 150, it was actually Rahul against whom New Zealand bowlers looked clueless. They kept the scoreboard moving and were always ahead of the required run-rate. India managed 65 runs in the first six overs and the two soon brought up the 50-run partnership - their fourth 50-plus stand in the last five T20I innings batting together.
Rahul got to his fifty with a six and it looked the two would take the game away from the Black Caps but Ish Sodhi dismissed the dangerous batsman to bring his team back in the game. Rahul departed after smashing four fours and three sixes and the onus was once again on the shoulders of Kohli to guide this run chase. But before the dust could settle in, Kohli whipped one towards deep mid-wicket where Guptill ran a long way forward and completed a terrific catch. In the matter of eight deliveries, India lost both Rahul and Kohli.
Shivam Dube (9-ball 13) played a couple of good shots before becoming Sodhi's second victim. With 53 needed off 30 balls, Iyer and Pandey slammed Sodhi for four and a six respectively to once again put India back on the driver's seat.
The two ensured there was no mess up and crafted the chase perfectly. The two hit 21 runs in the next two overs and brought the equation down to 18 off 12. Iyer then finished the job by thumping Southee for 6,4 and 6 in the penultimate over.
The second T20I will be played at the same venue on Sunday.