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September 11, 2009
Inspired by their two most experienced bowlers, New Zealand refused to surrender without a scrap but their spirited effort on the field wasn't enough to defend a modest target. Dinesh Karthik was removed early in the piece to bring Rahul Dravid to the crease but his comeback was a labored 45-ball 14, after which Sachin Tendulkar fell for 46. Raina joined Dhoni and finished off the chase with a calculated 72-run partnership.
Dravid endured a few testing moments as he adjusted himself to this format. Shane Bond was particularly quick and nasty in a hostile first spell, which included a fiery maiden sixth over, and repetitively tested Dravid with the short deliveries. Dravid negated Bond's aggression with customary grit only to be trapped lbw by Jacob Oram.
Tendulkar came out full of intent and treated the sparse crowd to some stunning shots. He repeatedly whipped Mills across the line, deft of wrists, for boundaries and welcomed Ian Butler into the attack with a fierce cut behind point and the shot of the day - a stylish whip off the back foot to a ball that pitched back of a length. Daniel Vettori was hammered off the back foot as Tendulkar closed in on fifty, but a clever change of pace had him lobbing the simplest of chances to cover. The bowler, the batsman and the catcher couldn't believe it.
Sixteen minutes later Yuvraj Singh moped off after he was beaten in flight to pop a catch when attempting to play another slog-sweep for four off Vettori. Raina eased the nerves a pinch by swinging Vettori for six and following up with three past midwicket, and continued to play with a perfect blend of aggression and smartness. His back-foot play was especially pleasing - he rocked back to pull anything even slightly off line - and backed himself to swing deliveries that had a bit of air. Dhoni was his composed self and put his head down to indulge in some good old-fashioned ones and twos. He helped steer the chase with a dependable innings, one devoid of any risks.
A cursory look at the New Zealand card would suggest an ordeal against pace on a juiced-up track in Australia or England, but the truth was they struggled against a tidy fast-bowling attack and failed to cope with Yuvraj. Having lost the toss, India turned in a committed display in the field to take to pieces a line-up woefully short on inspiration and effort. Once they had New Zealand at 19 for 3 they provided few escapes routes, and that was the deciding factor in the result.
India, led initially by Ashish Nehra before Yuvraj continued the carnage, were on top from the time the first wicket fell. Nehra set the tone for India's domination with a lovely new-ball burst, in which he passed 100 ODI wickets. With his second ball, he beat Jesse Ryder's loose shot across the line to hit him in front of leg stump and then removed Brendon McCullum with one that straightened and rapped the pads in front of middle.
Having watched an edge from Ross Taylor sneak through between slip and keeper, RP Singh held back the length and got Taylor nicking to Dhoni for 11. New Zealand's worries against left-handers - Thilan Thushara has been a handful all tour - continued with a poor display. Such was their discomfiture against the left-arm variety that Yuvraj's gentle slow turners soon looked like missiles.
Puttering along to 22 from 41 balls, helping put on 32 with Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill fell in Yuvraj's first over. Barely settling in to see what Yuvraj could offer, or if the pitch would assist turn, Guptill stabbed at one and Dravid, at first slip, reminded all of his class as a catcher with his 194th pouch.
Elliott, who looked the only one capable of batting till the 45th over and beyond, was then incorrectly given out for 22 by Kumar Dharmasena down the leg side. Replays showed the ball brushed only his pads as he attempted to tickle it fine. New Zealand had reason to feel aggrieved, but their efforts at the start had been unforgivable. The rest of the New Zealand line-up made fleeting appearances and there was little let-up for them as Dhoni rotated his bowlers, with the top four providing the dividends. New Zealand will need to improve considerably if they are to live up to their No. 4 ranking and challenge teams in the Champions Trophy.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?