Yuvraj Singh made an emotional return to international cricket but India snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to allow New Zealand to win the Twenty20 series with a thrilling one-run victory on Tuesday.
Chasing a target of 168, the hosts were cruising along comfortably at one stage but faltered at the death to give Black Caps a 1-0 series win.
The first T20 international in Visakhapatnam was washed out without a ball being bowled.
Men in Blue needed 13 runs from the last over but could manage only manage 11 in a dramatic finish which saw Virat Kohli’s blazing 40-ball 70 go in-vain.
Once Kohli was dismissed was out in the 14th over, the momentum suddenly shifted as Yuvraj who scored 34 off 26 balls with a boundary and two sixes along Mahendra Singh Dhoni (22 not out) couldn’t find the ropes. New Zealand’s experienced T20 bowlers Jacob Oram and James Franklin used the slower deliveries to good effect.
It was Franklin who bowled well disguised slower delivery to clean up Yuvraj. With six required from last two deliveries, Rohit Sharma could only manage four with couple of doubles. Franklin took a bow and Indian dressing room were stunned in disbelief as to how they managed to lose this match from a winning position.
A target of 168 is respectable by any standards but Kohli started in right earnest as he hit a flurry of boundaries. He hit some lovely cover drives, a good straight drive, a lofted shot over mid-off as India scored 47 in the first Powerplay.
Gautam Gambhir came cropper as he closed his bat face to give a return catch to Kyle Mills but there was no stopping Kohli as he repeatedly found the boundary.
Kohli completed a well-deserved half century off 30 balls when he charged out to hit left-arm spinner Ronnie Heera for a boundary.
Suresh Raina hit the inexperienced left-arm spinner for a six but then offered a tame catch to rival skipper Ross Taylor at covers. Raina hit 27 and more importantly added 60 runs for the second wicket with Kohli in only 7.1 overs to put India’s chase on track.
With Raina’s departure, in walked Yuvraj with a standing ovation from the Chepauk crowd. He played one behind square to get off the mark and then got a thickish edge past first slip for a boundary.
The smile on his mother Shabnam Singh’s face said it all. To find her son get back to where he belongs is the greatest satisfaction for a mother and it was writ large on her face.
The six over long-on off Daniel Vettori sent the crowd in a frenzy as India slowly but surely surged towards victory. Kohli hit his first six over extra cover in the same Vettori over but James Franklin finally got him caught in the deep.
India had firm grip on the match till Kohli was present at the crease but once he was gone, it slipped away with New Zealand maintaining their brilliant T20 International record against India. The Black Caps now have a 4-0 record in head-to-head clashes.
Earlier, Brendon McCullum smashed his way to a 55-ball 91 as New Zealand recovered from a jittery start to post a respectable 167 for five on a batting friendly pitch.
New Zealand’s finest T20 batsman McCullum took Indian bowlers to cleaners after the ‘Black Caps’ were reduced 2/2 with both openers back in the hut.
McCullum hit as many as 11 boundaries and three huge sixes including a couple off Ravichandran Ashwin.
The foundation of the New Zealand innings was 90-run third wicket partnership between McCullum and Kane Williamson, who contributed 28. More than the runs he scored, Williamson gave McCullum freedom to play his natural and aggressive game which has made the latter a big hit in the shortest format.
Irfan Pathan was most successful Indian bowler with figures of three for 31 including the prize scalp of McCullum, who was looking good for his second T20 International century.
Pathan foxed him with slower delivery that he failed to connect and it hit the stumps after brushing his pads.
Put into bat, New Zealand started on a disastrous note as they lost both their openers Rob Nicol and Martin Guptill within the first two overs.
Nicol was bowled off the last delivery of the first over from Zaheer Khan as he shuffled across towards off-stump only to miss a fuller delivery that pegged his leg stump back. He couldn’t open his account.
Irfan Pathan also delivered in his very first over as his trademark inswinger saw Guptill being castled after playing to a wrong line after scoring only one.
McCullum and Williamson then started the repair work. After carefully negotiating the opening bowlers for a couple of overs, McCullum chanced his arms as he first hit Zaheer over square leg and then flashed hard through point region to get a couple of boundaries.
Lakshmipathy Balaji, who made his T20 debut for India was also hit for a couple of boundaries from MCCullum although the first one was a streaky inside edge.
A huge roar went up as Yuvraj came into bowl his left-arm spinners. The first over went for only four runs but in the second over, McCullum gave him the charge hitting him over sight screen for a huge six.