Astle's ton inspires New Zealand to crushing 84-run win over India
New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming reasoned after his team's 16-run defeat by Sri Lanka that, though the Black Caps' performance was unacceptable, they had at least drawn a line in the sand. Today, in their second game of the Coca-Cola Cup, they drew a line in unchartered territories in what Fleming described as the best one-day performance of his captaincy.
The Black Caps pulled off an expected and absolutely resounding victory over India, eventually winning the game by 84 runs after bowling out India for just 127 under the bright glare of the Premadasa International Stadium floodlights, on a reused pitch that deteriorated markedly in the Indian innings.
India, however, had looked the likely winners at the half way mark having restricted New Zealand to 211 in their 50 overs. But a fine opening spell by Darryl Tuffey (7-2-7-1) and a devastating three wicket burst from Dion Nash, making a return from injury after ten months on the sidelines, reduced India to 50 for five.
Tendulkar's replacement, Yuvraj Singh, started the rot when he was trapped lbw in the fourth over of the innings. Two overs later, with the score still on 13, Indian captain Sourav Ganguly was well caught at backward point by Chris Harris as he mistimed a back foot drive.
The run scoring slowed and in the first 10 overs India had scored just 21 runs. It was Nash that swung the match decisively towards New Zealand. Brought on in the sixteenth over of the innings he dismissed key batsmen Rahul Dravid in his second over, as the consistent righthander was caught in the covers off a leading edge.
Four overs later Hemang Badani slashed at a delivery from Nash and was caught behind by Adam Parore. Virender Sehwag lasted just three deliveries before he was surprised by some extra bounce and was caught in the gully by Chris Harris.
Whilst Venkatasai Laxman remained at the crease the Indians still retained hopes of a victory and he was joined by the audacious Ritender Sodhi, who had fielded superbly earlier in the day and clumped one resounding six in his 18-run innings.
Laxman went on to score 60 from 102 balls and added 38 runs with Sodhi, but both batsmen struggled to score freely, as Stephen Fleming sensibly rotated his slower bowlers - Daniel Vettori, Chris Harris and Nathan Astle. All the while the biscuit dry surface crumbled making it harder and harder to time the ball.
Eventually the innings subsided as the pressure finally told. Laxman was caught by Harris in Vettori's second spell and Indian lost their last four wickets for eight runs as Harris mopped up the tail.
The woeful batting of the Indians highlighted just how good an innings had been played by Nathan Astle earlier in the day. The compact opener scored 117 and was two balls short of batting out the entire innings.
It was a chanceless innings, though he did enjoy one moment of outrageous luck when he played the ball on to the base for his stumps. The bails wavered, but didn't fall and he never looked back.
Once he had played himself he was the only batsman to play the Indian spinners confidently, twice lofting them straight down the ground. He scored nine fours and one six, which was more than in the entire Indian innings.
No other Kiwi batsmen settled and Stephen Fleming was the next highest scorer with 25, as Ganguly rotated his slower bowlers too, even employing the part-time left arm orthodox of Yuvraj Singh and Badani. The spinners bowled 33 overs in the innings.
Harbhajan Singh was the pick of the Indian bowlers, picking up two for 25 from his ten overs, including the key wickets of Fleming, caught at slip, ending a 70-run second wicket partnership, and Lou Vincent, who top edged a sweep to short fine leg.
Speaking afterwards Fleming said: "That was a great victory. Some of the things done in that game, including that tremendous hundred from Astle, were outstanding. I would go as far as to say that was the best performance by the one-day side whilst I have been captain.
"I originally thought we might be a bit shy of a winning total, but the number of the players who struggled to time the ball suggested that it would be difficult to score the runs," he said.
"The pressure all came from the opening bowlers doing their job," he believed. "Dion Nash's spell was then instrumental in winning the match. He had a huge impact on the side and it's great to have him back."
Ganguly now has just two days to raise the morale of his players. It will be difficult after such a comprehensive defeat, especially without the services of Sachin Tendulkar, who was dearly missed today. India's next game is against Sri Lanka on Sunday. They can at least look forward to a new pitch.