Debutant Navdeep Saini stands out in India’s scrappy victory

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Summary: India 98 for 6 (Rohit 24, Narine 2-14, Cottrell 2-20) beat West Indies 95 for 9 (Pollard 49, Saini 3-17, Bhuvneshwar 2-19) by four wicket

(ESPNcricinfo) India and West Indies began their month-long contest with a scrappy first T20I in Lauderhill: 15 wickets fell and fewer than 200 runs were scored in total. In a match boasting some of the biggest batting names in the world in T20 cricket, it was the bowlers who made merry. India’s debutant Navdeep Saini took three wickets, Bhuvneshwar Kumar took two, and it took a run-a-ball 49 from Kieron Pollard to keep West Indies in the contest at the halfway stage.

In the chase, India’s watchful start turned against them quickly with a few quick wickets, but the game came down to slender margins in the end: India’s five batsmen who got into double-digits outweighed West Indies’ two as they stumbled over the line in the 18th over.

Spongey wicket, soft West Indies

The pitch revealed itself to be damp and two-paced right from the start. India opened with Washington Sundar, and two of their seamers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Khaleel Ahmed. Both used their slower balls liberally right from the start of their respective spells. And if West Indies found it hard to adjust to these variations, then even Saini, India’s quickest bowler, gave them nothing.

Opener John Campbell nailed a slog sweep second ball of the innings, but got no height on it and found deep midwicket. Evin Lewis dragged a Bhuvneshwar knuckle ball onto his pad and into the off stump. Nicholas Pooran was through a pull too early, and Shimron Hetmyer through a dab too soon the very next ball, to put Saini on a hat-trick. By the last over of the Powerplay, Khaleel joined in too, getting a ripping offcutter to take Rovman Powell’s edge and a sharp catch diving forward from Rishabh Pant had West Indies at 33 for 5 in six overs.

Pollard holds up an end

Kieron Pollard has only played 65 of his 430 T20 innings at No. 4, but his push up the order in an inexperienced line-up paid off. Pollard was the only West Indies batsman prepared to tone down his natural game to adjust for the conditions. While there was little choice as the top order crumbled around him, Pollard’s idea to walk down at the seamers to alter their lengths was the only real effort against India’s bowlers from anyone on the day.

He was one of two batsmen to get into double figures for West Indies and vindicated those who have long stated that he is more than a T20 slogger. His 49, with four sixes and two fours, would have come quicker with more support from the other end. On the day, it had to be run-a-ball and despite his making it to the last over, would give West Indies a measly 95.

Not so simple

India’s reading of the pitch meant a watchful approach from their openers. But a slow start caught up with Shikhar Dhawan who was caught in front trying to hit Sheldon Cottrell behind square. For a few minutes, a dark cloud hovered over play and when India were 20 for 1 in five overs, they were exactly on par with the DLS score.

That slight tension got worse when Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant fell off consecutive deliveries trying to slog Sunil Narine and India fell to 32 for 3 in the seventh over. A routine chase was thus given an extra dimension.

Just finish it, silly

Kohli was all but stylish, with a clear focus on staying in till the end as he laboured to 19 at a strike rate just above 60. Then, he looked to drag Cottrell’s slower short ball and could barely look on as Pollard took it at midwicket and Cottrell brought out the salute. The absurdity of this game was now a full-blown theme: India 69 for 5.

India’s spin-bowling allrounders were trusted with getting the last 27 runs. And while they got the job done, the method was more vigorous than calm. Without the occasional boundaries on this slow pitch – and with a few more runs to chase – India might have found all their fears from early in the chase completely justified.

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