NZ tackle India spinners with patience
The first ball of spin bowled in the New Zealand chase spun and bounced past a stunned Kane Williamson's bat in the eleventh over. There was even a small puff of dust to be seen where Ravindra Jadeja's delivery had landed. Before the series began, Hamilton was being talked about as the venue that would suit India the most. In the second ODI, rain made sure that didn't happen, altering the conditions considerably. But the fourth one-dayer was played under a hot sun and clear skies, and the help for the spinners made Brendon McCullum remark how conditions were more favourable to India than to the home side.
For New Zealand to win the match, and seal the series, with so much ease in such conditions was some feat. It would not have been possible without the partnership between Ross Taylor and Williamson. In their three partnerships this series, the lowest the pair added was 60 in the second ODI. They had started with 121 in Napier, and bettered that with 130 this afternoon. As significant as their numbers was the way they handled Jadeja and R Ashwin.
As McCullum pointed out earlier in the series, Williamson and Taylor are New Zealand's two best players of spin. Jadeja beat Williamson thrice in his first over alone. To see even Williamson struggle to put bat to ball would have raised alarms in the dressing room about the pitch. McCullum was on a hat-trick of ducks and James Neesham was playing his first game of the series. A wicket at that stage could have meant panic setting in, and a completely different outcome.
Williamson and Taylor were to allow none of that to happen. It wasn't going to be easy. As soon as he saw the first ball do that much, MS Dhoni added a second slip for Jadeja. He began with a backward short leg for Ashwin.
Jadeja, taking the ball sharply away from the right-handers, was proving especially hard to handle. Williamson tried getting forward, but that first ball had already created doubts. He could not stretch fully, and ended up feeling for the ball as it zipped across the outside edge. Taylor was beaten as he tried to cut. He also faced issues with Ashwin's carrom ball, and a marginal leg-before call was turned down off one of those.
Jadeja and Ashwin bowled in tandem for 10 overs. New Zealand scraped 30 runs during that period. Critically, they didn't lose a wicket. There were no blind charges, there were no heaves to try and hit their way out of pressure. Both batsmen were just trying to come through rough waters. And they were pretty rough.
"I don't think we laid a bat on ball in those first couple of overs," Taylor said. "I have played a few years in India. In New Zealand, it doesn't really turn as much and you just lunge on the front foot. But [we were] trying to play off the backfoot as much as possible and play into the gaps. Kane is a very good player of spin and we knew then that if we could negate them, we gave ourselves the chance to put pressure on their fifth and sixth bowler and that's what we did. Jadeja bowled very well. On another day, he could have got a couple of wickets and stifled our momentum."
The momentum was to swing back in favour of the patient soon. Having visions of his fast bowlers being taken apart at the death, Dhoni cracked and decided to save the spinners for later instead. India had blinked first. Taylor and Williamson took 63 in the next nine overs off the other bowlers before Ashwin was brought back.
New Zealand had passed the main examination, though, and were much more confident now. Taylor used the cut liberally, frequently going deep in the crease to send the ball past short third man. Williamson hit only four boundaries compared to Taylor's 15 but, as always, he rotated the strike superbly.
The hosts' patience was to be tested again, when Jadeja broke the partnership with the run-out of Williamson. Again, New Zealand showed awareness and discipline, Taylor and McCullum blocking in the batting Powerplay to see Ashwin through to the end of his quota.
Just how difficult it really was out there was evident as late as the 45th over, when Jadeja beat Taylor, on 107, on the forward push. Just how determined New Zealand were was evident when, with just 21 needed off 24, they calmly played out Jadeja's final over.
New Zealand were faced with close situations throughout this series. They came out on top the first two times and tied the third time. Fittingly, to take the series, they were required to beat India at their own game. There could have been no better way than nullifying their spinners on a turner.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo