New Zealand captain Kane Williamson did not look like an unhappy leader despite losing both the ODI and the T20I series in India. What pleased him about his team's performance across both series was the way the visitors gave India a fight by turning the last match of each series into a decider and further taking it to the last over. In the third ODI in Kanpur, New Zealand nearly chased down 338, losing by only six runs, and in the deciding T20I in Thiruvananthapuram, they fell short by the same margin when chasing 68 in a rain-curtailed match.
"I thought in both of them [deciders] we were very good, just not quite good enough," Williamson said on Tuesday night. "That's the challenge; both of them came down to the last couple of balls and when that is the case, there are such small margins that we look to make those improvements. But on a whole, as a unit we are constantly trying to improve and get better. And I think, we have seen that throughout the series but there's still a way to go to where we want to be.
"We've showed some really good signs, like I said such a fine line, especially in white-ball cricket and we saw that throughout the series. It was a really tough-fought series, both teams played really good competitive cricket and for a lot of games to come down to the last three balls makes for good watching but a shame to be on the wrong side."
The margins in the deciding T20I were also slimmer, with rain curtailing the match to eight overs a side on a new ground. The pitch at the Greenfield International Stadium turned out to be damp and assisted bowlers with turn and moisture.
"Naturally, when it gets shortened to eight overs, you can sort of plan prior to going out with eight overs and only having to bowl four bowlers," Williamson said. "It kind of means that you're not too fluid in how you're going to operate. So, the guys coming out were essentially playing death in terms of their batting from ball one. So it was more to do with the surface and what we wanted to finish with today but it's something different because you don't experience it too much, you get 20 overs each and this is something different. You have to think on your feet.
"I suppose when the game is that short as well, to try and get a read on the surface is quite tough because you're trying to generate a strike-rate straightaway and it was a tricky surface so to get eight an over on that, from India's perspective was a good effort. We knew it was going to be tough and we got very close, just a shame we couldn't get across the line.
"Eight an over on that surface is fairly difficult. Perhaps a lot more difficult than on another surface. It is just trying to adapt as best you can, take the best options but even with eight overs, you don't have to go silly. You need to play smart cricket because there is still a lot of balls that you need to score off and then you get a couple of boundaries away, it goes a long way to chasing that total down. But it was a very tricky surface and for it to be so close, I guess we go back to how we want to execute. You can look at a number of areas but it was so close and I think we keep competing well, keep improving as a unit and we will get some more wins."
While defending their score of 67, India had the added advantage of using their prime and in-form bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, to bowl half their overs. India captain Virat Kohli also used them differently: he finished Bhuvneshwar's quota by the halfway mark and gave Bumrah the penultimate over. The last over was bowled by Hardik Pandya.
"In terms of a T20 generally, you have the start of the game and the death phase which is the last whatever depending on how many wickets they have lost so…five or six and you tend to see those two fantastic death bowlers bowling again," Williamson said. "When it's eight overs, they're kind of on the defense because batsmen are coming out so aggressively. And the nature of the surface…it was taking so much turn. All bowlers were a threat out there and I suppose batsmen were trying their best trying to generate a strike-rate."
Four bowlers being allowed two overs each also meant New Zealand did not have to use their fifth bowler, an area that has been a weak link on the tour. They have mainly utilised allrounder Colin de Grandhomme and Colin Munro to make up for that fifth bowler and Williamson admitted that combination was new to deal with for them. He also said players were trying to adapt to their roles in the team after New Zealand made changes to their top and middle orders.
"I suppose that fifth-bowling role for us is fairly new," he said. "Colin - both Colins I suppose and some of the part-time spinners - they are relatively new to that role to make up those 10 overs. But we certainly know in some conditions how effective they can be and we saw Colin de Grandhomme throughout the IPL bowl exceptionally well for Kolkata [Knight Riders]. It is a balancing act on different surfaces. The batting unit has a really nice balance to it but it is just trying to adapt, read the game the best you can and seeing our bowlers adapt well."