New Zealand's middle-overs soundness pays dividends
Not losing more than three wickets by the 35th over. That was the strategy New Zealand had spoken about and pursued for a while now, and they have now executed it superbly throughout the series against India. It has been rare and refreshing consistency from the New Zealand batsmen, that too, against the world champions who entered the series ranked No 1.
There is a lot to like increasingly about this New Zealand one-day unit, be it the power-hitters at the top and middle order, the canny yet different bowlers in Tim Southee and Kyle Mills, or the powerful seam allrounders in Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham. Still, a solid base was needed for all these weapons to launch itself from, and that was provided by an upper middle order that came good in every game.
The earliest New Zealand lost their third wicket in the four games was in the 33rd over, and their lowest score at which the third batsman departed was 153. The corresponding figures for India were the 15th over, and 74.
That New Zealand have got into these strong positions even though the highest partnership their openers have mustered during the same period is 54, is chiefly down to the labours of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, with Martin Guptill's century at Eden Park the other big contributor. Brendon McCullum even went as far as saying that Williamson and Taylor's performances were why New Zealand were able to take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the series with a match to spare.
"I think the winning of the series has been how we have got to that power situation, in the partnerships - Kane and Ross are our two senior batters, how they have played throughout the series has allowed us to get to that 35-over mark," McCullum said. "Sometimes we have capitalised and at other times, we haven't. The cricket we have played to get to that point has been high class and credit has to go to both Roscoe and Kane for how well they are playing at the moment and how well they are allowing us as a batting group to set big totals when we are batting first and as we saw [in the fourth match], chase down a big total in tough conditions as well."
The fourth ODI in Hamilton was the first time New Zealand were asked to chase in the series, but that wasn't going to bring about any change in the strategy. McCullum said the side had discussed what was to be done in the event they found themselves going after a target, and it was concluded that there was no need to alter what had worked so well so far.
"We discussed it leading into the last game, we said if we do find ourselves chasing, the blueprint shouldn't really change. I think when we chased 360 against West Indies, we didn't quite get it right and we discussed it as a batting group, how we are going to go about doing it and just try and replicate what we do batting first and that's still trying to put together partnerships, try and get to sort of that 35-over mark and have wickets in hand and obviously not too many runs to get. If we do that, then we would be pretty hard to beat in the backend of the game."
There is an important aspect to this approach. Trying not to lose more than two or three wickets till the batting Powerplay can easily mean you let go of scoring opportunities for a majority of the innings. New Zealand were aware they could end up throttling themselves if they were too careful, but a ballistic opening pair made sure that their starts, unlike India's, weren't sedate.
Williamson and Taylor then took over from there. Williamson may not have the power game that the others do, but he makes sure he keeps turning the strike over with machine-like reliability. Taylor, on the other hand, likes to go after the bowling but he's been given a specific role by this team management, which is to build the innings for the hitters to capitalise on. And despite admitting that he too loves to have a crack towards the end, he adapted his batting like any experienced professional in a team game should.
Professional, clinical, and thorough. These are not words you get to use often about a New Zealand outfit, especially about their results, and especially about their batting. But for taking down the big guns from the subcontinent, and doing it with such conviction, this unit deserves those words.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo