"Both the games we have played so far… I don't mind difficult wickets. I am all up for that, but these two wickets are not made for T20.”
This India vs New Zealand, it’s been a strange series so far. If you are a fan of fours and sixes, the second T20I in Lucknow would have been a snoozefest. We still got some action in the first encounter in Ranchi but not a single maximum was hit at the Ekana Stadium. The spinners have been unhittable and even Deepak Hooda and Glenn Phillips have been having a gala time with their part-time off-spin.
The Black Caps got the better of India in the first T20I but the hosts somehow managed to level the series in Lucknow. The reason why we have used the term ‘somehow’ is because it took India 19.5 overs to chase down a target of just 100. Hence, you would understand why Indian skipper Hardik Pandya went on to describe the Lucknow pitch as a "shocker" and also made the aforementioned statement.
One good thing did happen though - the Men in Blue emerged victorious and kept the series alive, with everything to play for in Ahmedabad on Wednesday (February 1). The Narendra Modi Stadium has been kind to batters since 2021 and we could finally get to see a high-scoring affair in this series.
This will also be India’s last T20I for a while as the focus will shift to the all-important Australia Test series, Indian Premier League 2023, World Test Championship final, and then the 50-over World Cup. India have made some strange selections in the last two series and there’s a high possibility that we might not see some of these players even in the squad once the T20I season returns before the 2024 T20 World Cup. Hence, all these players would be eager to do well in the decider and leave some sort of a lasting impression.
Things to look out for
This will be an important game for India’s top-three batters - Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill and Rahul Tripathi. You could cut Tripathi some slack as he has featured in only four T20Is and two of those have come in this series. The right-hander is an intent merchant and got that 35 off 16 against Sri Lanka but hasn’t done much in this series. He had to wait for a while to make his T20I debut, but is already 31 and will have to make every opportunity count.
Then you have got Kishan and Gill. The latter has been in unbelievable ODI form but hasn’t been able to ace the 20-over format. His strike rate in the powerplay has always raised questions but if there was one batter India would have hoped would do well in these conditions was Gill. Meanwhile, Kishan has already featured in 26 T20Is but has a mediocre average of 26.08 and a strike rate of 123.25. The left-hander has looked completely clueless in this series and it will become very difficult for him to retain his spot if he continues to struggle, especially with so many others waiting in the wings.
India’s frontline seamers Arshdeep Singh, Shivam Mavi, and Umran Malik have only bowled 10 overs between them in this series. Umran was even dropped for the second T20I as India went with an extra spinner in Yuzvendra Chahal. In fact, Pandya has bowled more overs than each of them. Mavi is in the team because India need someone to bat at No. 8, while Arshdeep’s numbers at death have been terrible of late. So, it will be interesting to see if Pandya gives them more overs in Ahmedabad or continues to get more overs from Deepak Hooda and himself.
Glenn Phillips has been a consistent batter for New Zealand in this format but his record in India isn’t great. The right-hander has only managed 67 runs in seven T20Is at an average of 11.17 and a strike rate of 97.1 and these are his worst numbers in any country. He has been dismissed four times by a spinner and averages just 6.75 against them in India.
Pitch and conditions
The Ahmedabad stadium hosted the entire five-match T20I series between India and England in 2021 and the batters here scored at an average of 32.1 and a scoring rate of 8.7, which tells you we will most likely get a good batting surface in the third T20I.
The fast bowlers had slightly better numbers in that series - economy 8.4 and strike rate 21.9 - compared to spinners (8.8 and 26.1 respectively). Hence, India could leave out Chahal and bring in Umran. Even in IPL since 2021, this venue has served well to the batters.
Considering Kishan and Gill have been struggling for runs, it won’t be a bad idea to drop one of them. If Gill goes out, India could bring in Prithvi Shaw, who has scored the most number of runs (570 @ 43.85 and a strike rate of 162.9) in the powerplay in IPL since 2021. But if Kishan goes out, India could slot in Tripathi right at the top and include Vidarbha’s wicketkeeper-batter Jitesh Sharma in the middle order. While Tripathi has a strike rate of 141.9 in the first six overs in IPL, Jitesh operated at a strike rate of 148.51 and 202.44 in the middle and death overs last season. However, it’s highly likely that India will go with the same set of batters.
Michael Bracewell has phenomenal numbers in the powerplay - nine wickets in 10 innings at a strike rate of 11.3 and an economy rate of 4.2. Amongst bowlers from the top-10 ranked teams who have bowled at least 10 overs in the powerplay since 2022, the offspinner has the best economy rate. Gill has a strike rate of 187.5 against offspinners in T20s since 2022 but he can keep Tripathi (105.7 - SR v off-spin since 2022) and Kishan (80.7) quiet.
India - Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya (c), Deepak Hooda, Washington Sundar, Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal/Umran Malik, Arshdeep Singh.
New Zealand - Finn Allen, Devon Conway (wk), Mark Chapman, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Michael Bracewell, Mitchell Santner (c), Ish Sodhi, Jacob Duffy, Lockie Ferguson, Blair Tickner/Ben Lister.