Asolitary Twenty 20 it was, but it featured multiple narratives, an emotionalreturn for Yuvraj Singh and his fans, an anti-climax for India and anincredible comeback from New Zealand. After Brendon McCullum had punched afurious 91, Virat Kohli counter-punched with a majestic 70, leaving India with49 to get off 42 deliveries with seven wickets remaining.
That is when the Chennai pitch started to behave more like atypical Chennai pitch; the ball had come on nicely till then. MS Dhoni andYuvraj struggled to get the ball off the square, James Franklin and Jacob Oramtook all pace off the ball to make it harder, and the asking-rate surgedsuddenly. Dhoni, having promoted himself ahead of Manoj Tiwary and RohitSharma, ended unbeaten on a perplexing 22 off 23 deliveries, failing to findany timing on his swipes and slogs and reduced to nudging singles on the legside.
With 20 needed off the last eight deliveries, Yuvraj managed toheave Oram over deep midwicket for six. With 12 needed off the last five, Dhonimanaged to pull Franklin to deep square leg for four. With six needed offthree, Yuvraj heaved and was bowled for 34 off 26.
There was still time for one final narrative. Enter Rohit, underpressure for his lack of form, with six still needed. He tried gamely, swingingboth the remaining deliveries for a couple of runs each, but India had to payfor tapering off after Kohli's dismissal in the 14th over.
India's defeat was the last thing on the Chennai crowd's mindwhen Kohli, opening in place of the injured Virender Sehwag, was rainingboundaries on New Zealand during his 15th fifty-plus international score thisyear. Wide deliveries were swatted away with disdain, length deliveries werewilled into gaps with confident pushes, spinners were lofted inside-out overextra cover, fast bowlers were charged at and hammered down the ground.
Kohli's assault and his 60-run second-wicket stand with SureshRaina allowed Yuvraj to ease into his comeback knock. The crowd erupted whenYuvraj thick-edged Adam Milne past slip for his first boundary and swung DanielVettori over deep midwicket for his first six. In between, he was let-off whenMcCullum and Kyle Mills collided trying to take a top-edged pull off Milne.
It was Franklin who began the turnaround when he had Kohlilofting his second delivery to wide long-off. New Zealand also had McCullum tothank, for lifting them from 2 for 2 with a calculated 91 that highlighted hisimportance to his side, especially in Twenty20s. McCullum had support from KaneWilliamson and Ross Taylor, but he was almost single-handedly responsible forNew Zealand reaching a competitive score with a knock that began watchfully,and then exploded into a frenzy of powerful hits over extra cover, down theground and over midwicket.
McCullum often begins a Test innings with a charge down thetrack and it was probably the two early wickets that made him play with somecaution initially. Rob Nicol and Martin Guptill came out swinging but werebowled by incoming deliveries from Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan.
McCullum broke free in the fifth over, flicking and cuttingZaheer for boundaries. L Balaji, making his T20I debut and playing his firstgame for India since February 2009, was inside-edged past short fine leg andsliced over point for boundaries in the next over.
Williamson, a calm man under pressure usually, ensured he gavethe strike to McCullum, who was now in control enough to ward off his usualself-destructing tendencies.
Sweeps, reverse-sweeps and scoops were kept away. The one timehe tried a reverse-sweep, on 38, he got away with a close lbw shout against RAshwin, with the umpire ruling there was an inside edge when replays indicatedthere wasn't any. McCullum's one good innings during the Test series againstIndia was ended when the umpire did not spot an inside edge. It was his turn tobenefit today.
McCullum went after Ashwin, lofting him over extra cover forboundaries and down the ground for sixes. Ashwin, the lone spinner playingahead of the recalled Harbhajan Singh, went for 34 in three overs.
McCullum was only nine short of what would have been his secondT20I hundred when he was eventually bowled after missing a sweep off a slowcutter from Irfan in the 17th over. Taylor and Oram were around to take NewZealand to a respectable score.
India rode on Kohli's brilliance in the chase, bottled up for awhile after he fell, and when they tried to catch up, it was too late.