India captain Hardik Pandya was surprised by the way the Ranchi pitch behaved in the T20I series opener against New Zealand on Friday. The pitch offered sharp grip and turn to slower bowlers throughout the game, with the dew factor not making much of an impact in the second innings. Chasing 177, India could manage only 155 for 9, as New Zealand won their first game of the tour.
"I don't think no one even thought that this wicket would play like that," Hardik told Star Sports at the post-match presentation. "Both teams kind of got surprised, but think they played better cricket on this [pitch], and that's the reason the result ended like that.
"Actually, the ball was turning more with the new ball than the old one. And the way it spun and the way it was getting [that] bounce, I think it kind of caught us by surprise, but I still think we kind of pulled it back. We were still in the game till Surya [Suryakumar Yadav] and myself were batting and obviously the way Washy [Washington Sundar] finished. As I said, it was a surprise wicket, but they just played little better cricket than us."
New Zealand captain Mitchell Santner echoed Hardik's thoughts on the track, with the sharply cut grass at the JSCA Stadium perhaps offering their spinners more assistance in the second innings.
"I think it was a shock for everyone involved - how much it kind of spun in the second innings," Santner said. "But yeah, it was a great game, and it was pretty tight in the end. You saw a lot runs in the ODI series, so it's nice to see the ball spin a bit more [in the T20Is]."
Washington wasn't too critical of the pitch and suggested that the way it played was just an aberration. "I think it was just a one-off game," he said at the post-match press conference. "I don't think that just because it was spinning so much, we have to address anything. Just that one-off game. Had we got off to a flier or even a better start, things would've been much different. Obviously, it did spin, and you will see such wickets here and there. Obviously, people over here and players in our team have played on such wickets in the IPL and even in the Indian team. So, just that one-off game where certain things didn't go our way and eventually, we couldn't cross the line. They bowled well and they played with three spinners and even their seamers bowled very well."
Washington reckoned that allrounder Daryl Mitchell's unbeaten 59 off 30 balls, including a sequence of 7(nb), 6, 6, 4 in the last over turned the game. Left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh kept missing his yorkers and ended up leaking 27 off the over of New Zealand's innings.
"Obviously, Daryl's innings was very crucial for them and as I said 150 would've been par and we would've been very happy with that going inside, but yes he made the difference by actually getting a half-century for himself," Washington said. "He played till the end and made the difference in the last over. I think these big overs will happen in T20 cricket and it just happened in a couple of occasions in this game and at times it could happen where you will see 15 runs and above in three-four overs. That's how this format is."
Santner also acknowledged that Mitchell's contribution - and making early inroads with the ball - was crucial on that pitch. Santner himself was so un-hittable in the early exchanges that Suryakumar played out a maiden in the last over of the powerplay. The left-arm fingerspinner came away with the most economical figures on the day: 4-1-11-2.
"I don't think we were ever safe [with that total]," Santner said. "On-seventy-odd was obviously nice, Daryl hit a couple over the rope and he batted extremely well and so did Dev [Devon Conway]. We thought we were in with a sniff at 180 [176 for 6]. We knew we had to bowl well with the power that India have; so it was nice to chip some wickets away at the powerplay, which we struggled for in the one-day series."