Kohli and Ashwin set up comfortable win
Virat Kohli's first century batting first, his fourth overall and second in a row, set up an eventually comfortable win for India, who are yet to lose an international in the current home season. India did lose their way in the last 10 overs of both innings. They lost their last six wickets for 26, and were given anxious moments by a 67-run ninth-wicket stand between Kyle Mills and Nathan McCullum.
Gautam Gambhir, leading India for the first time, soothed the nerves when 41 runs were needed in five overs with a lovely catch running backwards to remove McCullum. R Ashwin provided reasons why he can replace Ravindra Jadeja in the Indian line-up in the longer run with the big wickets of Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor. Ashwin showed he could be an attacking option, operating inside the Powerplays, bowling big offbreaks, and slipping in the carrom balls. With the asking rate climbing, he got his wickets regularly.
The pitch had little of the early-morning demons it is famous for, and all the Indian batsmen got starts. Kohli wasn't as flashy as the others, but only he converted the start. Not flashy didn't equate to not quick in his case. Just that he hit only 10 boundaries in his 104, as opposed to Yuvraj Singh's seven in 42, Gambhir's six in 38, and Murali Vijay's five in 29. And Kohli ran hard. And he placed the ball well, creating opportunities to run hard.
It took Vijay and Gambhir a couple of overs of caution to realise this was an easier pitch than the one that had them at 27 for 5 in the last ODI here. Vijay started off by cover-driving what was called a no-ball for four, and then pulling the resultant free-hit for another. Gambhir matched him in aggression, charging at the bowlers, creating his own driving length, and getting two fours off Daryl Tuffey in the sixth over.
Inexplicably, though, Vijay switched from classical shots to a slog that ended his knock in the eighth over, with the score at 44. Eight overs later Gambhir flirted with what would have been called a wide, and perished with India 92 for 2.
Yuvraj took time getting started. India's run-rate dipped below six as he scored seven off his first 28 balls. Then he started timing well, hitting boundaries at will. By the time he fell to Tuffey's remarkable knack of picking up wickets in the first overs of new spells, India were 179 in the 35th over. Unnoticed, Kohli had reached 63 off 73.
Unlike the others, Kohli didn't need periods of dramatic acceleration, nor did he need time to settle in. The only hiccup was the big shout for an inside edge from Kyle Mills. There was a sound, but no deviation. If we were not sure after watching replays, it is fair to assume the umpire couldn't have been either.
Soon Kohli started finding gaps, using his wrists to play into the on side. The pull to cow corner off deliveries not really short remained his favourite shot, getting four of his boundaries. Upon Yuvraj's dismissal, he did take charge, but didn't seem to make any drastic change, getting 42 off the last 31 balls he faced.
Kohli hit two boundaries in the 90s. The Powerplay had been taken, and it had to be made use of. The celebration upon reaching the century was representative of the growth of Kohli the batsman. There was no anger in his reaction on making the landmark, unlike in the past. He just had the smile on, enjoying the moment, more sure of his place. That the century would come seemed just as sure.
Andy McKay and Mills, though, were fantastic in the Powerplay, bowling the slower bouncers - and the quicker ones - well. McKay, in particular, got the ball to leave the right-hand batsmen from round the stumps. When Martin Guptill beginning the chase with five boundaries in the first six overs, it seemed New Zealand had shifted the momentum.
Ashish Nehra responded by shortening his length, getting Jamie How's wicket with one that got a bit big. Gambhir introduced Ashwin early, and the bowler delivered. He beat Guptill in the flight, getting him to hit straight to the deep fielder, signalling a start of a period where India choked the run flow.
The accurate Munaf Patel, and the spinners - Ashwin and Yuvraj - hardly bowled a bad ball for the next hour or so, and Taylor had to take his chances against Yusuf Pathan, hitting back-to-back sixes in the 23rd over - a pull and a slog-sweep.
However, the asking rate read 6.4 even after that over. Gambhir immediately brought back Ashwin, and New Zealand had to now attack Yuvraj, who was bowling well. A middle-overs collapse ensued, and when Taylor fell to another carrom ball in the 32nd over, he had left the tail too much to do for too long.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo