KL Rahul once again proved that he could be trusted at the top of the order as his calculated knock of 57 not out off 50 balls ensured India won the second T20I against New Zealand at Auckland by seven wickets with 15 balls to spare. He built a match-winning stand of 86 for the third wicket with Shreyas Iyer that gave India the platform for such a comfortable victory.
The match was beautifully set-up by the bowlers especially Ravindra Jadeja (2 for 18) and Jasprit Bumrah (1 for 21), who played a huge part in restricting the Kiwis to an below-par total.
However, India did not get off to the best of starts in their pursuit of 133 as Rohit Sharma was dismissed in the very first over for just eight off Tim Southee, who dismissed the Indian opener for the third time in T20Is. Shot making was going to be extremely difficult considering the slow nature of the pitch and that was exactly the case and Virat Kohli and Rahul could not pull or drive the ball as convincingly as they would have liked to. However, at times, they were able to use the bowler's pace and guide it over the short boundaries at Eden Park.
Kohli did not last long as he nicked one down the leg side to the 'keeper, for just 11, giving Southee his second wicket of the match. Southee gave away just a single and picked up the big wicket of Kohli in the final over of the powerplay. India were two down for 40 after six overs, but with eight wickets in hand, they were still in the driver's seat to chase the target down.
New Zealand had eight overs of spin in Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner left. It was Santner who came on to bowl right after the fielding restrictions were lifted. He gave away just two runs and not surprisingly, Sodhi came on to bowl from the other end.
At the halfway stage of the run-chase, India were going at exactly a run-a-ball, but with eight wickets in hand, they were still very much the favourites.
India brought up their fifty in the ninth over and at that point looked comfortable and in a good position to win the game. The boundaries had dried up, but the Rahul and Iyer were happy to knock the ball around for ones and twos. The Rahul-Iyer partnership was gaining momentum and the Kiwis would have dearly loved a couple of wickets at that stage. The spinners failed to do so, so Williamson turned back to his pacers.
However, they began to leak runs and the equation changed well and truly in India's favour. Rahul brought up his 11th T20I fifty with Iyer and him bringing up a crucial fifty partnership for the third wicket. The 86-run stand was brought to an end after Southee held on to a good catch in the deep to give Sodhi his first wicket. However, Iyer with his knock of 44 off 33 had done the damage along with Rahul, who took India home from there.
Earlier, on a slow Eden Park track, New Zealand managed just 132 which was a contrast of the hitting we witnessed in the first game not too long ago. The slow track forced Kane Williamson to win the toss and bat first, while Virat Kohli on the other hand too seemed to be happy to bowl first.
When it was India's turn to bowl, Shardul Thakur was given the first over of the innings, in a bid to perhaps finish off his spell quickly as he was extremely expensive in the previous match. The first over yielded a four and a six and resulted in 13 runs. But Mohammed Shami pulled things back in India's favour, giving away just five runs in the next over. He targeted the body of the batsmen and gave them very little room to free their hands.
After just one over, Thakur was removed from the attack and Bumrah was introduced. Against Bumrah, the top three New Zealand batsmen have a strike-rate of under 100. He kept it tight once again, giving away absolutely nothing. The pressure was mounting on the New Zealand openers, who were looking to cut loose. New Zealand had managed just 32 runs from four overs, which was an excellent effort from India considering they had given away 13 off the very first over.
Kohli then gave the penultimate over before the powerplay to leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who had an economy rate of 11 and had not picked up a wicket in the powerplay in T20Is since 2019. After conceding four off his very first ball, he conceded just three more singles in the rest of the over.
New Zealand got to their 50-run mark in the seventh over and in the ninth over, they lost their other opener Munro for a uncharacteristic 25-ball 26, giving all-rounder Shivan Dube his first wicket. New Zealand had lost yet another wicket in the 11th over when Colin de Grandhomme hit one straight back to Jadeja. In fact, Jadeja has bowled two balls at de Grandhomme and has dismissed him both times in T20Is. New Zealand from that stage needed two of their most experienced batsmen Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson to take them to a match-winning total.
The hosts added just 31 runs in the next six overs after the powerplay and had lost a couple of wickets too. As a result, their run-rate was well under 7 and they would have wanted to end the middle overs without any further damage, but Jadeja was once again in the thick of things, getting rid of Williamson for just 14.
At 94 for 4 after 15 overs and going into the death overs, New Zealand would have hoped to get at least 150 on the board. They got off to a good start as Tim Seifert took 15 off Chahal's over. Jadeja, who was brilliant throughout the innings gave away just six in the next over, bringing an end to his spell in which he picked up two wickets for 18 runs. Bumrah gave away just three in the next over, thanks to some pinpoint yorkers and smart fielding in the deep. New Zealand's target of reaching 150 looked slim. They needed 32 runs from the final two overs to achieve that. In the end, they fell well short as Shami and Bumrah kept Seifert and Taylor quiet.
New Zealand 132 for 5 in 20 overs (Tim Seifert 33*, Martin Guptill 33; Ravindra Jadeja 2 for 18, Shivam Dube 1 for 16) lost to India 135 for 3 in 17.3 overs (KL Rahul 57*, Shreyas Iyer 44; Tim Southee 2 for 20, Ish Sodhi 1 for 33) by 7 wickets
Player of the match: KL Rahul