New Zealand v India, 3rd ODI, Auckland January 26, 2014

NZ's problem of the knockout punch

One of the most important issues New Zealand need to sort before the fourth ODI is their ability to shut the opposition out after getting to a strong position

Not many would have bet on New Zealand beating India in three successive matches. The ODI in Auckland showed one of the reasons why. Few top sides would have allowed the opposition to come within one shot of winning from 184 for 6 in a chase of 315. New Zealand had a golden chance to finish the series in Auckland but blew it spectacularly. And for all their recent resurgence and Brendon McCullum's confident vibes at press conferences, it is this failure to deliver the knockout blow that they have to weed out.

New Zealand almost gave the impression that they were pleased at having tied the Auckland match, when it actually had been theirs to lose for a considerable period. McCullum even said they had done reasonably with the ball and on the field, when they had actually allowed what had been a long tail in the first two games to all but run away with the match.

"I think we are obviously proud of the way we are playing at the moment and the characteristics that we are showing in some of the cricket we are playing is very good," McCullum said. "They are the expectations we have of ourselves. We don't always live up to them. We are starting to see a team that is growing in confidence.

"We executed our blueprint pretty well for a majority of it. We lost our way for a little bit. In the field and with the ball we were okay, so from that point of view, I hope it sends the message that New Zealand is starting to get there as a one-day team and can really compete against big nations. We just need to keep backing it up and do it consistently."

Kane Williamson felt New Zealand had been "calm" in tough situations against quality players.

"When you play a world-class side like that, you know what they are capable of. You can sometimes let go and they will get away from you at times," Williamson said. "You get a wicket and you pull it back and for some reason, you can be quite calm in that situation. And I think we were and I think we have been in the last few games.

"It's an important lesson to take forward into the next two games because I think in tougher times, you have world-class players that can take the game away from you but if they get dismissed, whether they score a hundred or not, you have every chance of winning the game. The likes of Virat and Dhoni are extremely dangerous players but if you can get them out, especially chasing, you can defend anything."

New Zealand sent back both Kohli in the 15th over and Dhoni by the 36th over in Auckland. Yet, had Ravindra Jadeja managed to connect the last ball better, New Zealand would have failed in their defence of a substantial score. This is not to run down what has been a performance way above expectations against the world champions. New Zealand did manage to hold out a stiff counter from India in both Napier and Hamilton.

But as Jadeja and R Ashwin went after them in Auckland, they cracked.

Their fielding, something they pride themselves on, reprieved both batsmen with dropped chances. There was a missed stumping as well. They had relaxed their guard after the huge wicket of Dhoni, and you could sense some panic among the ranks. Boundary balls, wides, the occasional misfields. The wheels had come apart but, fortuitously for them, Corey Anderson just about got away with a very poor final over.

Which is why the fourth match at Seddon Park becomes even more crucial for New Zealand. India have sensed the hosts can be vulnerable even when they are on top.

"Hamilton will again be a huge game for us," McCullum said. "It's a good test for us. We are playing against the best and we have been confronted with some pressure situations and we are learning a lot about ourselves which is good. It should hold us in good stead in 12 months' time."

McCullum would want New Zealand to apply those learnings as well, for such a meltdown could prove far costlier in the World Cup next year.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo