Cricket Article

West Indies v India 1st T20I at Florida - Saini Sizzles on Debut as India Edge Low-Scoring Contest

West Indies v India 1st T20I at Florida - Saini Sizzles on Debut as India Edge Low-Scoring Contest Photo: TT
Navdeep Saini won the MoM award at Florida

In 2016, India’s first experience of playing T20 cricket at Lauderhill in Florida had ended in their bowlers getting pasted for 245 in the 20 overs and a heartbreak of a chase as they fell short of that target by a solitary run. Three years on, India had to huff and puff to a four-wicket win over the same opponents, West Indies, in a sub-100 chase.

On a pitch described as tacky by the players, India’s bowlers stunned the opposition batsmen early and while Kieron Pollard chipped in with a neat 49-ball 49, a score of 95 was never going to be enough. In fact, Pollard aside, none of the batsmen ever looked settled at the crease, and the West Indies might have been left ruing not scoring 25 more than they did.

Virat Kohli’s decision to field first at the toss despite having gone down to New Zealand in the preceding World Cup semi-final in a chase, was on expected lines. Not too many knew how the surface was expected to play but more vitally, the moisture around the pitch in recent days was expected to make batting difficult in general. And it played to plan.

Off just the second ball of the game, Washington Sundar sent back John Campbell for a duck and Evin Lewis, hero from that 245 game three years ago, fell soon after without scoring too. Nicholas Pooran was joined by Pollard at four, a position at which he had batted only 10 times before this in T20Is, and for a few moments it looked like the side had averted a potential derailment.

In fact when Pooran welcomed debutant Navdeep Saini with a disdainful six over his head, not too many would have bet on the game seeing just over 190 runs scored in its entirety. The very next ball, Saini’s pace found the top-edge of the Pooran bat and he followed it up with the wicket of Shimron Hetmyer to make it two in two.

It was a procession after that. Pollard kept up his end, even smashing four sixes with the effortless ease one associates with him while batting for the Mumbai Indians, but the rest of the batsmen failed to make much of their stay at the crease. None of them got to double digits but captain Carlos Brathwaite was the most guilty of the lot, scoring nine but using up 24 balls and then losing his wicket.

Saini returned back to bowl the two of the final three overs and sent down a maiden in the 20th, stalling West Indies to their fifth-lowest T20I score and third of less than 100 this year. That was enough to earn him the man-of-the-match award.

India endured their own struggles in the chase.

Shikhar Dhawan’s return to international cricket didn’t last long, trapped lbw by a fullish ball from Sheldon Cottrell but the two at the cynosure of all attention in recent times, Rohit Sharma and Kohli looked to have given Indian fans a hope of an early finish.

Rohit’s oft-seen silken touch was on display even on that slow pitch, as he slammed a couple of sixes and fours. He, however, fell attempting one such shot, holing out to the long-on fielder. Off the very next ball, Rishabh Pant did nothing to allay worries around his super-talented-but-irresponsible-shot-maker image. A slog off the first ball he faced from Sunil Narine went straight to hand.

West Indies had an opening at this stage but Manish Pandey’s 14-ball 19, giving him the best strike-rate of the game for anyone who had faced an over at least, ensured India would overcome those hiccups. While he managed to york himself and get bowled and then Kohli himself got done in by the pace of the pitch, Ravindra Jadeja and Sundar carved out the remaining runs to complete the win.

The second T20I will be played tomorrow at the same ground.

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