India determined to attack short balls
New Zealand used the short ball liberally at McLean Park. India tried to counter by pulling and hooking liberally too, but lost four of their top six batsmen. Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, was pleased his team had executed what they had planned. His counterpart MS Dhoni said India were not going to stop pulling, but needed to be more judicious while using the shot.
"One of the options is to not to play the shot but our strength has been to play the shot," Dhoni said after India lost by 24 runs. "At times we will get caught because it is a difficult shot to play. But most of our batsmen like to play it since this is our strength. Especially overseas, we need to play and master it because you cannot have bowlers bowl short to you always. With two bouncers allowed you cannot leave all; (there are) nearly 80 balls with four fast bowlers out of 50 overs. We can always pick and choose when to play and when not to play."
One of the batsmen who fell to a bouncer, not for the first time, was the No. 5 Suresh Raina, and with the new No. 4 Ajinkya Rahane falling to an outstanding catch, India's poor returns from crucial middle-order positions continued. "So far we have not got consistent runs from the No. 4 and 5 batsmen and even if you don't look at big hundreds or fifties, even then those slots are crucial.
"If the opposition has batted well, they will score 280-300. And then if you lose early wickets most of the time we are doing catching up, trying to build a partnership but then the run-rate goes up, so lower-middle order comes under pressure. Yes, we are missing consistency but if they counterattack they will come good soon in the future matches."
Despite being 129 for 4, Virat Kohli and Dhoni had taken India to a position of strength, when Mitchell McClenaghan dismissed them and also claimed Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni said that was when the game was lost. "Three wickets - me, Jaddu and Virat - we really got out in quick succession. That was when we needed a partnership. To go a bit further we could have targeted the spinner with one of their bowlers (Adam Milne) getting injured. We had extra two overs. But sadly the batsmen thought the other way around. I think they will learn out of this. It is very important that until the game doesn't get over we really should not think it is over."
McClenaghan took 4 for 68, again showing his ability to consistently pick up wickets. "He does keep producing the results," McCullum said. "I think we bounced out four guys today which is great. That's the plan we wanted to implement and Mitch was a big part of that as well.
"He does keep producing at key times for us and I can't stress the importance of it. He is going to travel at times, but as long as he is trying to perform in the manner that we have picked him for, then we are happy and he has to ride that wave because he has the handy knack of picking up wickets at key times."
The century partnership between Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, which set the base for the hitters in the lower-middle order, also played a major part in New Zealand's success. They were able to take runs at will off India's spinners, who went for 1 for 113 in 19 overs. McCullum had spoken of New Zealand's ambition of targeting the spinners in unhelpful conditions and was glad another plan had worked.
"I thought we played the spinners well," McCullum said. "It doesn't tend to turn a great deal here in Napier, so it could obviously be a different challenge from here to Hamilton. The two guys that we had at the crease against spinners are two of our best batters against spin bowling and their ability to put together a partnership through rotating the strike and picking up the odd boundary was key in allowing us that platform we wanted."
Dhoni acknowledged the spinners would not be as effective here as they are at home, but India are unlikely to reduce their reliance on them. "Their roles will change when they play outside the subcontinent. The home team will never make pitches that turn and they will have to keep varying their pace and length.
"Also, whenever we have played with four fast bowlers, two things happen. One the captain gets banned, two we lose. So they are not good stats and I want to play in this series. So it doesn't seem like an option, but I think the spinners bowled pretty well. They didn't get wickets but they were able to build some kind of pressure which I think is also important."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo