Superman Santner spins a web for New Zealand
With the theme of the #WT20SuperHeroes trending around social media, perhaps the most unassuming player in the tournament started the Super 10 phase with a truly heroic performance for the Blackcaps
17 March 2016 13:38
At the VCA Stadium in Jamtha on Tuesday (March 15) night, there was plenty of help for his left-arm spin from the dry track that made him look more Bishan Singh Bedi than Mitchell Santner, 24 and with just 23 international games under his belt. Having worked his way to a run-a-ball 18 in New Zealand’s modest 126 for 7 in their ICC World Twenty20 Super 10 opener, Santner then got to work his way through a formidable Indian batting in the most Indian of conditions.
It was classical left-arm spin, built around the basics of flight and control and delivered courtesy a high-arm action. There wasn’t significant drift on view but Santner didn’t necessarily need that string to his bow. Just to drop the ball on a spot time after time, and get it to fizz away from the right-hand batsmen, was enough of a test, a test that India’s fabled line-up failed miserably as it was teased out for 79, the lowest Twenty20 International total on Indian soil.
Four overs of concentrated execution of skills brought Santner figures of 4 for 11 and the Man of the Match award. It also brought with it the satisfaction of having felled the high-flying Indian giant in its own backyard, though even Santner might have been surprised at the ease and the rapidity with which the fight went out of the Indian camp.
His first wicket is perhaps the one that will delight him the most. Perhaps he saw Rohit Sharma advancing down the track, perhaps he didn’t; the ball dropped just out of reach of the batsman’s arc and broke away sharply to leave him stranded. The turn and the extra bounce startled Luke Ronchi, who fumbled with the take, but with Rohit within hand-shaking distance of the bowler, the wicketkeeper had enough time to recover, gather the ball on the second attempt and dislodge the bails. It was Santner’s second international ball on Indian soil, and the result could have done nothing but buoy him.
In that same over, he got Suresh Raina to pop a dolly to midwicket, returned for a fresh spell a few minutes later to trap a bemused Hardik Pandya in front with a delivery that came in with sharply with the arm, and rounded off the evening’s entertainment with the scalp of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, caught smartly by spin twin Nathan McCullum at long-on. Indian batsmen? Masters of spin? Say that again, Santner might have said.
“We knew it would be a hard-fought game. The score might not have showed that but we had to fight to get to 120 and we thought it was a little bit below par,” is what he said instead, almost swallowing his words in the same manner in which he gobbled up the Indian batsmen. “But we just stuck to our plans and got wickets at crucial times. It was definitely more hard fought than it looked.”
Maybe Santner was just being polite, because from the outside, it looked anything but hard fought. Hard, yes, but the fight went out of the Indian camp long before the final act was played out. “Every time you beat India in India, it is a bit of a confidence booster and there are a lot of positives to take away from this game,” he went on. “But there are also a couple of things that we need to work on before the next game. We will just take it game by game and we will move on to the next.”
Kane Williamson wasn’t at hand to explain the rationale behind leaving out Trent Boult and Tim Southee – in the final analysis, he didn’t need to, did he? – and putting his entire faith in the spinning group. Santner admitted that New Zealand had been influenced by how the surface appeared, showcasing well concealed wry humour by expressing a desire to wrap this surface up and carry it to Dharamsala, where New Zealand next play Australia on Friday.
“It’s obviously up to the selectors but the pitch did look like it would spin and we decided to go in with an extra spinner,” he said of the three-pronged spin attack with Ish Sodhi’s legspin as the third prop. “Watching (Ravindra) Jadeja and (R) Ashwin bowl today, they got some purchase off the wicket and we were just lucky that we had three spinners who managed to do the job today.
“The surface in Nagpur does spin a lot. We knew that we would have to bowl spinners in the first six like Ashwin did. Nathan and Ish bowled well and when the spinners take nine wickets on a spinning track, it’s not a bad effort. I guess pitches will be different. In Mumbai, there seemed to be a bit more in it for the seamers. I guess we will have to wait and see what the pitches will do, for me I prefer a spinning pitch.”
The jury is still out on whether Santner is a batsman who can bowl, or a bowler who can chip in with the bat. He couldn’t care less, really, so long as he is pulling his weight in either department.
In the lead-up to the tournament, Santner had expressed the desire to get Virat Kohli’s wicket. That desire remained unfulfilled – he bowled only one ball at the India No. 3 and Sodhi got rid of him with his first ball of the match – but Santner was more thrilled with what he did achieve rather than brood over the one that got away. “He’s obviously a world-class batsman but any Indian wicket is a good wicket over here. I am just happy I got four of them tonight.”
It won’t be every night that Santner will register career-best figures and set up a commanding victory in a low-scoring contest. Which is exactly what makes nights like the one in Nagpur special. Superman has had his say; it’s Clark Kent time now, at least until Dharamsala and the trans-Tasman showdown.