India weathered early diffidence to outshine a determined West Indian attack and won the first of the three T20Is by five wickets at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
India coasted to the target with 2.1 overs to spare as wicket-keeper batsman Dinesh Karthik stood his ground against the West Indian bowling attack with an unbeaten 31 (34b, 3x4, 1x6).
Karthik, who had earlier helped India win the Nidahas Trophy earlier in March with a blitzkrieg 29 including a last-ball six, showed his knack of excelling under pressure once again when he took control of the Indian run-chase.
The hosts innings was poised precariously at 45 for four in the eighth over and with most of the established names including captain Rohit Sharma (6), Shikhar Dhawan (3), K.L Rahul (16) back in the dug-out, Karthik played a responsible innings.
Young Rishabh Pant also had a poor outing as he went back scoring just a run leaving the resurrection work to Karthik and Manish Pandey.
A 38-run stand between Karthik and Pandey for the fifth wicket hoisted the Indian innings out of crisis run when West Indies appeared to be plotting an upset.
Rohit's time-honoured romance with Eden Gardens did not come alive this time as he had to depart on a successful DRS appeal by the visitors.
Rohit was declared caught behind for edging a fine delivery from Oshane Thomas, who got the ball to cut back sharply at the Indian skipper and induce the inside edge. The umpire missed the snick which the cameras detected to help West Indies find an early break.
After Pandey departed at the score of 83 Karthik was joined by all-rounder Krunal Pandya, who was making his T20I debut, to pick the required 27 runs in an unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership.
Earlier, West Indies top order failed as the conceivably less-accomplished lower order sparkled with the bat to offer India a fighting score.
The visitors scored 109 for eight after the host opted to field on winning the toss. The Indian tweakers – the left-arm spin combination of Kuldeep Yadav and Pandya – broke the spine of the West Indian batting applying a high level of efficiency to their craft.
For left-arm orthodox bowler Pandya the figures of 4-0-15-1 was a great way of making a debut but it was Kuldeep who excelled once again at Eden Gardens.
The chinaman bowler seems to be developing an affinity with the venue having picked up a hat-trick against Australia in the ODIs in September last year before bowling a match defining spell of four for 20 against Rajasthan Royals in the IPL this year.
Kuldeep scalped three important wickets to ensure that the visitors did not flourish and register a big score after the pacers – Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah – had inflicted the initial blows picking up the wickets of opener Denesh Ramdin and Shimron Hetmeyer on successive efforts.
Added to that was a mix-up that saw another wicket (of the other opener Shai Hope) between the efforts of the two pacers.
The spin duo came to operate in the eighth over when the visitors was reeling at 34 for three. Pandya scalped IPL (Mumbai Indians) team-mate Kieron Pollard to start the West Indian slide.
It was over to Kuldeep hereafter as he picked up three wickets giving away a miserly 13 runs (4-0-13-3).
Darren Bravo, Rovman Powell and the West Indian captain Carlos Brathwaite were the three victims of Kuldeep, who sent West Indies crashing to 63 for seven when he completed his spell at the end of 15th over.
West Indies Innings could have folded up even earlier but for a rearguard action by the tail enders – Fabien Allen, Keemo Paul and Khary Pierre – who combined in two almost even partnerships for the eighth and the undefeated ninth wicket to bring up the last 46 runs in the final five overs.
For the record, Umesh Yadav was drafted in as a replacement of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who dropped out with a “gastric complain” on the day of the match.
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