It was a T20I series that could easily have ended 3-2 in New Zealand’s favour, but it is a testament to India’s newfound ability to thrive under pressure that they managed to walk away with an emphatic 5-0 victory.
While it might be argued that the Blackcaps contrived to find new ways to choke every time in the series, India’s resilience in the face of pressure cannot be discounted. The manner in which they came back from the dead in the final three T20Is against the hosts is the biggest positive they will take from their thumping victory.
Only once in the five-match series did India enjoy a comfortable sailing and that occurred during their seven-wicket win in the second T20I. In the four remaining matches, they had to overcome several sticky situations and they managed to find a new hero in all of those particular moments.
Whether it be Shreyas Iyer playing a blinder in the first T20 or Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur forcing successive matches into Super Overs, there was always someone to deliver for India during the clutch moments.
Rohit Sharma’s consecutive sixes off the final two deliveries of Tim Southee’s Super Over in the third T20 was another such example, as was Manish Pandey’s impressive rescue act with the bat in the series finale.
With just over seven months to go for the T20I World Cup in neighbouring Australia, it is fair to say India are starting to hit all the right chords in a format which has not always been their strong suit.
The flourishing form of KL Rahul is another big positive, with the Karnataka man finally starting to blossom into the batsman he was always predicted to become. For anyone who saw Rahul bat in the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League, his subsequent struggles to hold down a spot in the India team were nothing short of astounding.
The right-hander was tearing apart bowling attacks at will during that particular edition and looked destined to become India’s next batting sensation due to the flair and effortless fluency in his game. However, inconsistent displays, along with stiff competition for places in his natural opening position, meant that Rahul was constantly shunted in and out of the national team.
His inconsistent run with the bat now seems like a distant memory with the 27-year-old scripting an impressive turnaround in recent months. 414 runs in his last eight T20I innings, including 224 in the recently concluded series, speaks volumes of the ridiculous consistency on Rahul’s part. It is also important to note that Rahul’s strike-rate has hovered around the 150 mark during this sensational run of form.
While it took an injury to Shikhar Dhawan to allow Rahul to open the innings in New Zealand, his explosive displays have blended in seamlessly with the brand of T20 cricket being demanded by skipper Virat Kohli.
Best Boundary/Inning ratio in T20Is:-— The Cricket Panda (@TheCricketPanda) February 1, 2020
(min 1400 runs)
1. 🇮🇳Rahul: 4.97✨
2. 🇦🇺Finch: 4.69
3. 🌴Gayle: 4.50
4. 🇦🇫Shahzad: 4.46
5. 🇮🇳Kohli: 4.39
6. 🇵🇰Babar: 4.23
✅Rahul hits ~5 boundaries every innings🔥
✅Kohli the only non opener in top 5.#KLRahul #ViratKohli #T20
With India now adopting an all-out attack approach in the shortest format in preparation for the World Cup, Rahul’s ability to start fast in the powerplay overs is just what the team needs. Neither Rohit Sharma or Dhawan are fast starters with the bat.
The fact that he has also taken over wicketkeeping duties from the mercurial Rishabh Pant means that India have been able kill two birds with one stone.
Over the last few months, Rahul has shown that he can produce strong batting in different positions, though it is as an opener where he has looked his most effective. India will be wise to not tinker with his position once Dhawan inevitably returns, for his presence at the top provides the team with an extra gear in the batting powerplay.
For now, it all seems to be coming together nicely for India and Rahul, and they will want this momentum to continue until the World Cup.
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