In the end arrived the reminder that this was a T20 match after all; when Rishabh Pant reverse-scooped Barry McCarthy for a six over first slip’s head to wrap up an emphatic eight-wicket win for India. Until the burst of impishness the half-packed stadium had waited for the whole day, the game had rolled along like the first morning of a Test match rather than a T20 game, its beats slow and wary.

The chase of a meagre 97 was not without the stray shiver of fear, though. Even in sunshine, the ball moved handsomely at the hands of Ireland’s medium pacers. Only that they didn’t have the pace, patience and discipline to make it difficult. Or for that matter, the runs on the board.

The match vindicated Rohit Sharma’s warning that wickets in New York would be a far cry from those in the IPL, where six-hitting seemed the most familiar sight. Here it was difficult, with Ireland slamming only three and India five. The sluggish outfield meant only 15 fours were hit in the game. It would have been a culture shock for those dusting off their IPL memories, or for the American stranger who wandered in hoping to watch some baseball-like slugging. New York and India seemed worlds apart, literally and metaphorically.

T20 World Cup India captain Rohit Sharma plays a shot against Ireland during an ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket match at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Wednesday, June 5, 2024. New Delhi: DMK Chief MK Stalin greets TDP President N Chandrababu Naidu at the Delhi airport, Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

“It was all about getting used to the conditions which is why we wanted to bowl first. I don’t think the wicket settled down when we batted,” Rohit said after the game. He discovered that early in his innings. In the first over, Mark Adair fizzed one past his inside edge, before brushing the outside half of his bat. It was not until the 11th ball he faced that he unleashed a stroke of absolute authority, when he glided down the surface and thumped Josh Little down the ground.

Fatally, his opening partner Virat Kohli thought this was the route to success on this surface. He bounded out of the crease, threw his arms at the ball and ended up hacking it to third man, leaving himself and the crowd distraught.

Festive offer

Pant joined Rohit, but both knew the perils of flashy shots. In the next 19 balls, the India captain hit just a four. Pant too controlled his aggression, picking a lone four in the first 14 balls he faced. They were in no hurry. “When there’s enough in the pitch you have to stick to your basics,” Rohit would say. They could take their time, because on this occasion their bowling had been good enough to allow it.

Bowlers’ day out

The expertise and variety of India’s pace quartet would have shaken more pedigreed batting sides. That sleight-of-hand sorcerer, Jasprit Bumrah explodes into vision from nowhere; Mohammed Siraj distorts judgments, hurries batsmen with slippery pace and deviations; Arshdeep Singh has added another dimension to the attack, left-arm deception, producing different shapes, angles and bends; A fit-again Hardik Pandya can be both a workhorse and a strike force, swing the ball from full lengths, and purchase awkward bounce from hard lengths with his bustling action.

Gift-wrap them a surface with grass and inconsistent bounce, and they possess the powers to terrorize most batsmen. They made the surface resemble a furnace for Ireland’s batsmen. Arshdeep swung the ball both ways. He altered lengths subtly. A flustered, rather than frustrated, Paul Stirling tried to unshackle and ended up miscuing a good-length ball to Pant. Arshdeep bookended the over with a wobble-seamed away-swinger that confounded Andy Balbirnie.

T20 World Cup India’s bowler Arshdeep Singh, left, is congratulated by teammate Hardik Pandya for taking two early wickets against Ireland during an ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket match at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Wednesday, June 5, 2024. AP /PTI

By this time, the sunny New York morning resembled a gloomy London morning. Dark skies, movement in the air. The ball swung magnificently, made to look more so by the static feet of the Irish batsmen. Pant, playing his first official game for India after the accident-enforced layoff, had a busy day behind the stumps. He had to gather the ball as late as possible to account for the movement after the ball had passed the batsmen. In a rare, wayward over from Arshdeep, he had to stretch his sinews repeatedly to collect the ball. In the previous over, Siraj made one delivery leap from a good length and Pant had to block the ball a few inches above his head.

The 13-run over from Arshdeep injected momentum into Ireland’s flailing innings. But steamed in Bumrah and produced an over of pure evil, Lorcan Tector struggling to process the length of the ball, always half a second late in responding to the questions posed. In the next over, Pandya ended his ordeal with a nip-backer so precise that all the worries of his ineffectiveness with the ball seemed an exaggeration. Pandya was sharp, robust and exuded the intensity that makes him such an invaluable proposition across formats. Ireland’s batsmen could offer little resistance, apart from blind blows at the end that took them to 96.

Although the surface did assist India’s seamers, and the Irish batsmen had little technical adeptness or temperamental nous to stave off a calamity, the adaptability of India’s seamers was commendable. All of them were returning from the IPL, but there was no hangover.