Calm McCullum sets up series victory
Brendon McCullum gave yet another masterclass in Twenty20 batting, keeping his nerve to shepherd New Zealand to a last-ball win. The match followed a similar script to the Christchurch game for 37 overs, with New Zealand completely in control, before Irfan Pathan's double-strike in the 18th over of the chase sparked India to life.
From a requirement of 28 off the last three overs with eight wickets in hand, it came down to nine runs off three balls. A calm Brendon McCullum slapped a couple of powerful boundaries, before a top-edge off the final delivery sailed agonisingly beyond the grasp of Rohit Sharma at mid-off to seal the victory.
The home side looked as if they would coast to a win when the openers, McCullum and Jesse Ryder, waded into India's new-ball pair. Ryder clubbed the first ball into the crowd beyond long-on to launch a rollicking opening stand that raised 52 off 4.3 overs.
All the talk before India embarked on the tour was of swinging pitches and their potent fast bowlers, but it was the spinners who brought India back into contention today. Harbhajan Singh, making intelligent use of his doosra, and Ravindra Jadeja, firing the ball in, brought down New Zealand's run-rate from 10 to around seven. During that phase McCullum, who had got off to a blazing start, was content to pick the singles.
Zaheer Khan was brought back into the attack after the spinners were through; he bowled a few unplayable snorters but they were interspersed with loose deliveries that were easily put away. With New Zealand coasting, India fought back from an unlikely quarter - Irfan Pathan. His place had been under scrutiny and he had leaked 25 from his two overs with the new ball. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni tossed Irfan the ball with three overs to go even though Ishant Sharma had two overs left.
A swinging yorker removed Ross Taylor's offstump second ball and Jacob Oram went for a golden duck, edging a short, wide delivery to the keeper. Only five came from that over, but Yuvraj conceded 11 off the next leaving the home side needing 12 from the last six balls. The tension ratcheted up as Irfan kept it full, conceding only three singles from the first three balls before a nerveless McCullum showed why he's such a feared opponent, ensuring that New Zealand maintained their 100% Twenty20 record against India - played three, won three.
India's bowling and fielding was markedly better, but the batsmen served up a repeat of Wednesday's limp performance. India didn't try to hit every ball for six as in the previous game, but their shot selection still left a lot to be desired. Suresh Raina, Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan all fell to poor strokes as India frittered Sehwag's typically belligerent start.
Yuvraj and Dhoni set about consolidating after India had lost three wickets by the seventh over. With New Zealand's bowlers and fielders keeping it tight, just nine runs were scored during a three-over spell. India were 64 for 3 after 10 overs when Yuvraj cut loose. One wild swipe resulted in an inside-edge for four, but there was nothing streaky about the three sixes that followed. After a massive hit over wide long-on off O'Brien to bring up his half-century, Yuvraj's scoop over extra cover ended in a simple catch for Jacob Oram.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni remained unbeaten till the end, but his timing was awry and he could only manage a subdued 28, with two boundaries. It fell to Jadeja and Irfan to play the big hits; their efforts lifted India to 149.
New Zealand's batsmen had a fairly simple task ahead of them at the halfway stage after their disciplined bowlers derailed India's big hitters for the second game in a row. Iain O'Brien and Ian Butler sliced through the top order, Daniel Vettori was at his Scrooge-like best, and Ryder continued New Zealand's long tradition of effective dibbly-dobbly bowlers to restrict India to a score that was still some way short of the total they would have liked.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo