McMillan leads New Zealand to four-wicket win
New Zealand 249 for 6 (McMillan 82, Styris 68) beat India 246 for 9 (Kaif 64; Tuffey 3-31) by 4 wickets with 15 balls to spare
Scott Styris (r) and Craig McMillan turned the match around with their partnership
A pugnacious 82 not out by Craig McMillan, and his 127-run partnership with Scott Styris, took New Zealand to an unlikely victory against India at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. Zaheer Khan, with a burst of runs at the end of the Indian innings and a burst of wickets at the start of New Zealand's chase, had put on India well on top when McMillan and Styris began their fightback. On a slow-paced wicket, India did not appear likely to cross 225 when, with a 13-ball innings of 33, Zaheer propelled them to 246. He then picked up two wickets in an incisive first spell as New Zealand staggered, first to 44 for 3, and then 68 for 4.
But just as Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum had revived New Zealand's innings at Pune, McMillan and Styris kept the flame burning. They began tentatively, taking their time in getting used to the pace of the pitch, which made strokeplay fraught with danger. India's battery of spinners were a problem - India played three specialist spinners, as Murali Kartik and Sairaj Bahutule joined Harbhajan Singh in the India XI. (Kartik, Bahutule and Hemnag Badani took the places of a bereaved Anil Kumble, an indisposed Virender Sehwag and Parthiv Patel, as Rahul Dravid opted to keep wicket.)
McMillan and Styris did nothing rash, and from a phase of consolidation moved into a phase of accumulation, as the spinners found it difficult to bowl with a ball wet with dew. The batsmen ran quick runs, kept the scoreboard ticking, and punished the bad balls that came their way. And when one of them took a fancy to a particular spinner, there were fireworks.
McMillan hit Bahutule out of the attack with a series of powerful slog sweeps, and Styris took to Kartik, smashing him for a couple of boundaries in the 38th over as New Zealand galloped towards their target. But he was trapped leg before in Kartik's next over for 68 (195 for 4). Shortly after that Mohammad Kaif ran out Jacob Oram (6) with a brilliant pick-up and throw (214 for 6). But Dravid kept his part-time spinners, Yuvraj Singh and Badani, on, and McMillan and McCullum finished things off with a flurry of boundaries.
New Zealand had begun their chase well, going at seven an over in the first five, before Stephen Fleming (24 off 14) was out lbw to Ajit Agarkar (39 for 1). Zaheer then struck twice, trapping both Chris Harris (0) and Lou Vincent (1) lbw, though controversially - Harris certainly got an inside edge onto his pad, and Vincent appeared to have done so as well.
Chris Nevin, who had never looked comfortable during his innings of 29, slog-swept Harbhajan to midwicket in the 15th over, where Yuvraj took a well-controlled catch (68 for 4). Writing on the wall? No. Graffitti resistant paint.
False dawn: The Indians celebrate the early dismissal of Lou Vincent
India's innings was a stop-start affair, with a number of promising partnerships ending just as the innings was gathering momentum. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman added 27 at a run-a-ball pace before Tendulkar, on 14, played across the line to Kyle Mills, missed, and was adjudged lbw.
Laxman and Kaif, promoted to No. 3, then added 50 in 77, but both batsmen weren't entirely at ease. Many firmly hit strokes were going straight to fielders, and neither man was looking out for quick singles in the manner that, say, Australia do. Laxman was eventually out to Styris, driving a slower ball straight back to the bowler (77 for 2). His 31 had come off 46 balls.
Dravid injected some urgency into the innings, placing the ball beautifully with soft hands and running hard. He improvised well, and one paddle sweep in particular, off Daniel Vettori, showed an elan that few would have suspected him capable off in the last millenium.
Having set a platform, Dravid crashed trying to take off. He stepped out to Vettori and drove uppishly to Styris at midwicket, who held on easily (136 for 3). Dravid had made 31.
Yuvraj threw his wicket away off just the third ball he faced, stepping out to Vettori and lofting him down the throat of Mills at wide long-on (136 for 4). With 103 balls still left in the game, it was a remarkably stupid shot to play.
Badani then came in and, improvising furiously, lifted the tempo. He tonked Vettori for ten in his last over, eight of those coming in the first two balls: the first was slog-swept from outside off to the midwicket boundary; the next was reverse-swept to third-man for four.
Kaif, having added 33 with Badani, was out in the next over - the 39th - to Styris, chopping an incoming ball onto his stumps while trying to glide it to third man (169 for 5). Kaif made 64 off 108.
It was all down to Badani now, with the lower order to play around him. Bahutule made a spirited 11 off 13 balls, and Ajit Agarkar was giving good support to Badani as they settled in for one final charge. But a dubious decision brought an end to Badani's innings. He slashed at a widish ball from Daryl Tuffey, missed, and McCullum appealed successfully (205 for 7). Replays cast doubts both on whether Badani had nicked it and on whether McCullum had taken it cleanly.
India seemed likely to end at around 230, until Zaheer (33 off 13) lashed 20 runs off the last over of the innings, bowled by Oram. The last three balls read: 6, 4, 6. Could this be the difference between the two sides? No.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.