Yuvraj Singh made a creditable comeback to international cricket, but failed to see India to the line as the hosts, from a position of dominance, narrowly lost to New Zealand by a single run in the second and final T20 at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
Brendon McCullum set the match up for the Kiwis with a typically swashbuckling 91, before the Kiwi bowlers brought the game back in their favour with some brilliant work in the final few overs. Set a target of 168, after the Kiwis ended up on 167/5 in their allotted 20 overs, India could only manage 166/4, a brilliant 70 from Kohli going in vain.
At the beginning of the innings, India got off to a rollicking start in reply to the challenging, but makeable, target. Kohli, who opened the innings for the missing Virender Sehwag, was at his absolute best, stroking the ball at will and keeping India on par with the required run rate. If McCullum is a bludgeoner, Kohli is all about caressing the ball through the gaps; both equally effective and exciting to watch.
Gautam Gambhir got out early, catching a leading edge straight back to the bowler Kyle Mills.
Suresh Raina came in at No 3, and did what he does best, play a few lofted drives and move the scoring rate along nicely. Raina and Kohli shared a 60-run partnership, with Kohli the aggressor, going on his merry way and making the target look easily achievable.
Raina, however, perished for a 22-ball 27; a drive finding Ross Taylor at cover off Mills' bowling. That dismissal, though, was greeted with a big cheer, because it meant the arrival of Yuvraj to the crease. The stylish left-hander got his first boundary off a thickish outside edge, before he reminded everyone of the old Yuvraj with a ridiculously easy pick-up six; everything was going according to plan at that time for India, with Kohli looking set for another big score.
The Delhiite, however, crucially got out for a brilliant 70 off just 41 deliveries, and India seemed to lose their momentum from there on. Both Yuvraj and Mahendra Singh Dhoni got stuck, failing to find the boundaries as New Zealand clawed their way back with some good disciplined bowling, particularly from James Franklin (2-26) and Jacob Oram.
The equation, which was at one point 47 off just 42 deliveries, was soon 25 in 12. India took 12 runs in the penultimate over, meaning they needed 13 off the final over. Dhoni struck a four in the second ball, but Yuvraj (34 in 26) got bowled with just two deliveries to go, leaving Rohit Sharma to score 6 runs from the last two. The Mumbai batsman, however, could only manage four, giving the Kiwis a one-run victory.
Earlier, India won the toss and put the Kiwis in to bat, with the hosts making the perfect start, picking up two wickets in the first two overs. Zaheer Khan knocked back the leg-stump of Rob Nicol for a duck, before Irfan Pathan got the wicket of Martin Guptill for one. Kane Williamson, who started his innings with a nice cover drive for a boundary, and Brendon McCullum started the repair work, that was much-needed, nicely.
Soon after, the moment everyone had been waiting for happened, when Dhoni brought on Yuvraj Singh in to bowl in the seventh over. Yuvraj, who is making a return to cricket after overcoming cancer, was as successful with the ball as he was with the bat in last year's 50-over World Cup, where he won the man of the tournament and the crowd waited in anticipation for the comeback man to show some of his magic immediately.
With the field restrictions over, however, the New Zealanders were happy to just knock the ball around and wait for thr right balls to strike boundaries. McCullum was now in full control, charging down the track at will and smashing the ball to all parts of the ground. The Kolkata Knight Rider, soon enough, got to his 50 in just 32 balls, but showed no signs of slowing down or resting on his laurels. Kane Williamson at the other end was doing the smart thing, taking the singles and giving the bulk of the strike to his aggressive partner. The duo's 90-run partnership finally came to an end, when Williamson failed to fully connect on an attempted scoop over short fine-leg, allowing R Ashwin to take a smart catch, and giving Pathan his second wicket. The opening bowler then got rid of McCullum for a brilliantly played 91 of just 55 balls; the Kiwi playing on after misreading a slower ball.
A few lusty shots from Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram ensured New Zealand finished well, setting India a stiff target.