March 14, 2003

India's seventh win in a row achieved with ease over NZ

India had batsmen in Mohammad Kaif and Rahul Dravid who produced the goods when they mattered, something New Zealand couldn't generate in their own innings, and they inflicted a seven-wicket loss that should spell the end of New Zealand's World Cup.

The match in Centurion saw another New Zealand top-order batting collapse and the only remaining strand of hope of New Zealand making the semi-finals is for Zimbabwe to beat Sri Lanka tomorrow.

But getting into the semi-finals in that fashion would be embarrassing for this New Zealand side who appear in a state of batting shell shock, almost completely out of touch with their regular game.

A score of 146 was never going to be enough to trouble the highly-talented Indian batting line-up which is running high on confidence at the moment.

Despite the best efforts of Shane Bond to bowl New Zealand back into the game to leave India 21 for three wickets, the shortcomings of the New Zealanders were ruthlessly exposed by India, just as they were by Australia earlier in the week.

It is a cruel fact of sport that the catch dropped by wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum, when Dravid was on one, from Bond's bowling will be remembered by many as the reason for New Zealand's loss coming as it did when India were 22 for three wickets.

That would be unfortunate. New Zealand lost this game, as they lost the earlier match against Australia, because of their lack of batting.

McCullum's was an unfortunate miss but as far as his tournament was concerned it was an aberration. The same could not be said of the batsmen who so often got themselves out in similar manner.

New Zealand's batting problems, the failure of the collective unit to work together, were borne out again in an effort that ranked high on the most abysmal perpetrated by the side.

While they were dismissed for less against Australia, they could at least say that was attributable to the pace of Brett Lee.

But on this occasion it was Zaheer Khan, a bowler of whom they had seen plenty in New Zealand, and who was bowling in far less amenable conditions, who undid the batsmen from a side supposedly playing for a World Cup semi-final place with his haul of four wickets for 42 runs.

The wickets of Craig McMillan, easily caught when turning the second ball of the innings to square leg, and Nathan Astle, pinned plumb leg before wicket off the next ball, were blows that struck at the foundation of the innings.

Scott Styris attempted to recover the situation with Stephen Fleming but when the score was 38 he had a ball from Ashish Nehra take the edge and fly to wicket-keeper Dravid to be the third to fall.

McCullum was elevated to protect Chris Cairns but the plan failed as he was bowled by Khan, his 100th wicket in One-Day Internationals, for four runs and New Zealand were 47 for four wickets.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly marshalled his bowlers effectively throughout the innings, and everything he tried seemed to work out.

Never more so than when he brought back Javagal Srinath for his second spell where he picked up the vital wicket of New Zealand's in-form batsman, Fleming, for 30 when he attempted a back foot shot only to offer a simple catch to Sachin Tendulkar at mid-off. He took one for 20 off eight overs.

The rout was complete when Cairns, having reached 20, attempted a cut shot of sorts to off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. The result of his mis-timed shot was a simple catch to Khan at backward point. New Zealand were 88 for six and the only question seemed to be whether they could avoid lowering their worst score in World Cup games, the 112 against Australia. Harbhajan ended with two for 28 off his 10 overs.

The lower-order hung around long enough to keep the score slowly building but the longer they stayed, the more it highlighted the inadequacies of the top order players and their failure to make use of the good conditions.

Once India got over the hiccup at the start of their innings with the loss of Virender Sehwag for one, Ganguly for three and Tendulkar for 15, and the opportunities, rather than definite chances, to fieldsmen who would have achieved the miraculous held they held them, Kaif and Dravid batted without great risk and sensibly accumulated their runs while all the time dragging down the New Zealand spirits.

They each scored half centuries. Kaif played the more extensive hand, achieving his fourth half-century in ODIs and finishing on 68 not out while Dravid was 53 having scored his 44th half-century.

From India's point of view, Kaif's finding of form was invaluable as he had been the one batsman in the order without a sizeable score and the New Zealanders will have done he and India a big favour today.

Indian captain Ganguly said he was delighted with the bowling and fielding of his side and he knew that even when the side was in trouble they had the players capable of improving the situation.

"We have done very well so far but we have still got the most important part to come," he said.

New Zealand captain Fleming said the side was never in the game and had produced a poor performance batting wise.

"We needed to be a bit more polished in all areas and on days like this you have to post good scores," he said.

India will play Kenya in their semi-final next week and the prospect must be for Australia and India to play the final next weekend.

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