As if on cue, India surprised everyone by deciding to bat first after putting the opposition in. This was the first time in the last 20 ODIs out of Asia, when MS Dhoni, so fond of chasing, chose to bat. In a related post, couple of days ago, this author made a mention of Indian captain’s persistent penchant of preferring to chase, rather than setting targets for the opposition. Well, it didn’t work either as cracks became more visible in India’s top order. And about the Indian bowling attack, the less said, the better. Dhoni also chose to drop Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan and drafted Ambati Rayudu, instead. This had the dangerous consequence of exposing India’s best batsman to the fiery spells by Kyle Mills and Tim Southee.
India’s decision on the batting order shuffle worked to the advantage of New Zealand, because Mills and Southee have the ability to frustrate the best opening pairs in the world. The batsmen were kept on a tight leash and of all the batsmen; Virat Kohli couldn’t get to play his shots. Mills and Southee didn’t allow any liberty, either to Kohli or Rohit Sharma because the risk was too great if the two batsmen had attempted any cuts or pulls. In the fourth over, India had only managed 5 runs, when Kohli got a bit adventurous, after he had already faced 10 balls in his 14 minutes’ stay at the crease. It was a deliberately bowled short delivery by Southee, to which Kohli attempted a heave. But all he got was a top edge, which flew to midwicket for one of the easiest catches for Jimmy Neesham. Ajinkya Rahane came one-drop but looked in trouble immediately. After 6 overs, India had only scored 11 runs with Rohit Sharma on 5 from 20 balls. But the 7th over was fruitful, in which Sharma first got 2, then hit a six and ran for a single. On the first ball of the 8th over, Sharma poked at an away going delivery, got an edge and a life, as Taylor floored the catch. On the second ball of the 9th over, Rahane attempted a hook to a shortish delivery from Mills and was caught off a top edge at long-leg. After 60 balls in the innings, India had put up a woefully low total of 28/2, with Sharma consuming 36 balls for his 16 runs.
But from this point onwards, Rayudu and Sharma added 79 runs for the third wicket, before Rayudu fell to a mistimed top-edged stroke, to a ball from Hamish Bennett, in the 26th over. Dhoni joined Sharma and the two added 41 runs. In the 33rd over Sharma was caught by the keeper down on the leg side. A few balls later, Ashwin also got out cheaply, to reduce India to 151/5. In the remaining 16.9 overs after Ashwin’s wicket, Dhoni and new man Ravindra Jadeja added 128 runs, including 100 off the last 10. Dhoni scored his third consecutive fifty and Jadeja proved that the Auckland knock was not merely a flash in the pan. In a way, it was a commendable comeback by India to finish with 279/5. In the end, however, the score was not enough.
Martin Guptill and Jesse Ryder began with a blast. They reached 54 by over no.7 and looked good for more. But in the 8th over from Varun Aaron, just as Ryder was shaping into a drive through extra cover, an inside edge from his bat landed on the stumps. Four runs later, Guptill perished leg-before-wicket to Shami and suddenly New Zealand stood at 58/2 to give India some opening. In the 11th over from Jadeja, Williamson was beaten three times but that is all about Indian bowling’s high point.
Taylor and Williamson went on with the task of taking New Zealand to a well-deserved victory by adding 130 runs for the third wicket in the next 28.1 overs. Yet again, none of the Indian bowlers could make any impression on the Kiwis. Dhoni helped the New-Zealanders by taking off the spinners and easing the pressure on the batsmen. Taylor and Williamson made mincemeat of mediocre Indian bowling from Bhuvi Kumar, Stuart Binny, Aaron and Rayudu. 63 came from 9 overs, before Ashwin came on again. At this point Williamson was run out on the second ball of the 35th over from Jadeja, when Williamson set off for a non-existent single and Jadeja struck the stumps on the non-striker’s end after collecting the ball on the follow through with Williamson well short.
The rest was easy. New Zealand did not lose any more wickets. Taylor completed a well-deserved, yet a patient century and McCullum, after some initial hick-ups, stayed on to score 49 off 36 with 3 sixes. Other than Jadeja, no Indian bowlers made any impression on the Kiwi batsmen, as they reached the victory target with 11 balls still left. Talking about frontline Indian bowlers, it was sad that Kumar, Aaron and Shami collectively yielded 174 runs in just 24.1 overs at a combined average of 7.22. With such a trend, it will be impossible to win another match unless India’s batsmen make 350 or more runs per innings.