January 8, 2003

India's bid for 'moral' victory just the incentive NZ need

Zaheer Khan: followed devastating burst with ball with surprise match-winning knock with bat
Just when New Zealand needed a challenge to keep their minds on the last two matches of the National Bank Series with India, man of the match in Wellington tonight Zaheer Khan provided it.

Khan, who decimated New Zealand's top order batting when taking three wickets in nine balls in the second and fourth overs of the innings, then scored his highest total of 34 not out in a One-Day International to give India a two-wicket win, their first of the tour.

With the series already in New Zealand's safekeeping, Khan said India's goal was to win the next two matches because that would give them a moral victory from the series.

The mathematics might not support his contention, but it is a challenge for the New Zealanders who went into the match wanting to try a few plans, and who had some weaknesses exposed, not only in batting, but in their bowling under pressure, and in their concession of extras.

Rather than being able to rest on their laurels, the home side came out of what was another tense but low scoring match of few redeeming features for the cricket purist, knowing they have plenty to work on.

New Zealand were also reminded in being dismissed for 168 in the 42nd over that they forgot the basic fact of one-day batting, to ensure you complete your 50 overs.

India, on this occasion, kept their composure under strain again, not helped by poor umpiring decisions which continue to feature too prominently in matches of this importance.

Yuvraj Singh scored a fine 54 to all but complete the victory, that honour going to Khan, his partner in a vital stand of 44 runs for the eighth wicket.

For all the disappointments of the quality of the cricket there were still some interesting aspects to the game for the crowd of 19,352 who turned up.

The dismissal of the season had to go to Andre Adams who had Anil Kumble out hit wicket to a ball that bounced twice. It may be the easiest wicket Adams ever takes, certainly it will be difficult to bowl a worse delivery.

He seemed to lose his grip in his delivery and the ball bounced almost at his own feet and flew high in the air and the parabola of the ball took Kumble completely by surprise. He went back to cover his stumps then saw the ball dropping in front of him.

He moved forward to play the ball, but in the process knocked the wickets with his bat.

Khan upset Stephen Fleming's plans for the New Zealanders to take advantage of time in the middle by batting first. Nathan Astle, Mathew Sinclair and Chris Harris never had a chance to do that. They were all back in the pavilion by the time the first three runs had been scored.

Astle is not likely to send umpire Brent Bowden a Christmas card for the leg before wicket decision he received, and later in the match Sachin Tendulkar had cause to be disappointed with his decision, also from Bowden.

Two of the game's biggest drawcards gone without scoring a run and facing 12 balls between them.

Fleming and Chris Cairns, back in the big time, set about the recovery with Cairns hitting the ball well enough to suggest that despite his time off for injury, the best touches of his batting are not too far away. There were some concerns with the gap he was leaving between bat and pad and it was through that avenue that Javagal Srinath, with the first ball of his second spell, bowled Cairns for 25 scored off 32 balls.

Fleming, who had shown impressive speed between the wickets, went in the next over, the 15th for 19 off 41 balls.

With New Zealand 51 for five wickets, there was a chance provided for the middle and lower-order to use some rare time in the middle to build a one-day innings.

Scott Styris started out on that route with 13 before he played a ball from Ashish Nehra onto his wickets but Brendon McCullum did best. He punished shorter balls which he hit square to the boundaries, and he ran hard between the wickets to keep the score moving.

The most exhilarating batting of the series came when Adams joined the fray. His clean hitting was timely as it gave the innings a lift with three sixes, including a dazzling hook from left-armer Ashish Nehra's bowling. Adams swung right in underneath the ball and it flew unerringly into the stands, about 10 rows back.

Sourav Ganguly had the final say and tempted Adams to repeat a six to mid-wicket. Adams had a go but didn't get it away as he intended and it lobbed to cover where Mohammad Kaif took the catch.

When McCullum went in the 35th over the end was all but nigh.

India's innings started as badly with captain Ganguly out off the first ball bowled by, you guessed it, Daryl Tuffey for his 15th first over dismissal in international cricket.

Virender Sehwag pepped up the run chase with another innings of fire and brimstone which saw him score 45 off 40 balls before falling to a first slip catch by Fleming.

New Zealand's fielding kept the pressure on the Indians with Yuvraj out to an absolutely superb reflex catch by Chris Harris at mid on who held an Exocet in the way that only he can effect.

India's confidence boost from this result will ensure there is some life in the sixth match to be played in Auckland on Saturday.