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Australia may have done the BLACKCAPS a big favour when they pipped the New Zealanders by just one run in their Twenty20 International in Sydney ten days ago.
The gutted look on vice-captain Brendon McCullum¹s face as he fell to a brilliantly-juggled outfield catch by Adam Voges needed no translation. Having blasted 61 off 47 balls with less than two overs to go, McCullum knew he literally had a match-win in his hands - a match that had informally been labelled ‘the decider’ after a frustratingly even Chappell-Hadlee ODI Series.
McCullum had just reached his highest Twenty20 International score - hot on the heels of his previous best, a pyrotechnic 59 against the West Indies in the last National Bank Series match, which made full use of Hamilton’s short boundaries. He wanted that win against Australia badly for the team’s sake, and to be unbeaten in the process. Those foes from across the Tasman denied him both wishes. Frustration? The word barely covers the bruises to McCullum¹s ultra-competitive hide.
So now India will feel his wrath. He’s due, and with just two chances to dominate the Indians, the pivotal wicketkeeper-batsman won’t hold back as he seeks to show just why he’s one of the most dangerous Twenty20 blasters on the planet. Add this to the eager enthusiasm of new players like Guptill and Broom and the Twenty20 matches are set to be an explosive start to the India series.
Despite the impressive fire-power of the likes of Oram and Ryder, the BLACKCAPS have won just six of the 19 Twenty20 matches they’ve played since 2005, including two ties - which only exacerbates their sense of Twenty20 frustration. We know we’re a better side than those bald statistics indicate.
India has met the BLACKCAPS just once before in the shortest form of the game - at the Twenty20 World Championships two years ago, when the New Zealanders trumped them by a tight 10 runs. It was a rare loss for the Indians, who by contrast have won most of the Twenty20 matches they’ve played: seven victories from 11 games, one with no result, one tie and just two losses. They lifted the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 trophy at the end of a thrilling final against Pakistan two years ago, spearheaded by opening batsman Ghambir’s 75.
With their title defence coming up in June (two weeks of non-stop action in England), cool-headed captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is keenly aware of the need to get in some early psychological dominance over the BLACKCAPS while he’s got the chance.
Likewise, Vettori wants to gain a mental advantage over the Indians, not only in the context of the ICC Twenty20 World Championships, but more immediately in the extensive National Bank Series.
The two National Bank Twenty20 Internationals - in Christchurch and Wellington - should prove just the first of fiery fracas between two sides with so much to play for. If you remain in any doubt as to their significance, just train your binoculars on Brendon McCullum’s face as he walks out to bat. This time it’s personal.