New Zealand overpowered in rain-hit match
Virender Sehwag set the tone with a typical fire-starting innings, and fine hands from Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were also instrumental as India eased to a comfortable 53-run victory [by Duckworth-Lewis] in a match twice interrupted by rain.
India piled up a mammoth 273 for 4 from their 38 overs and then reduced New Zealand to 111 for 4 before further rain left them the near-impossible task of scoring 105 from 43 balls. Harbhajan Singh then picked up three wickets in four balls as the match fizzled out and apart from Martin Guptill's accomplished 64, there was little for New Zealand to take from McLean Park.
After a small mid-innings wobble, Raina and Dhoni added 110 from just 12.2 overs to wrest the initiative. Daniel Vettori had brought about a lull in the proceedings after Ross Taylor's stunning catch to send back Sehwag, but once 40 came from the three overs of the batting Powerplay, there was no holding the Indians back.
New Zealand had reason to rue some poor bowling, with Kyle Mills, returning from injury, especially culpable. Raina was in superb touch, and full tosses from Mills were ruthlessly dealt with, usually with cleaves of the bat that sent the ball soaring over midwicket for six. When the bowlers tried to curb him by bowling wide of the stumps, Raina improvised to squeeze-steer the ball backward of point for fours. With Dhoni rotating the strike cleverly at the other end, New Zealand had no answer.
It wasn't as though Dhoni was only the supporting act though. He pulled powerfully on occasion, paddle-swept cleverly and also played one majestic wristy flick through midwicket off Ian Butler. With the regular bowlers powerless to stop the onslaught, Vettori turned to Grant Elliott. It worked, with Raina miscuing another big hit. But by then, the run-rate was hovering around seven an over, and it went beyond that as Yusuf Pathan (20 from just 10 balls) and Dhoni finished strongly.
Sehwag had started the day with a clutch off fours off the wayward Mills, but the players were back inside the dressing rooms within 20 minutes as the rain came down. By the time the game resumed, 24 overs in total had been lost, and India's sense of urgency was apparent. Sachin Tendulkar pulled Iain O'Brien for four, and then guided Mills through the vacant slip position, while Sehwag cut a six over point.
Things were looking bleak for New Zealand before Ian Butler came on, playing his first ODI in more than four years. It was an inspired move, with Tendulkar getting the thinnest of edges through to Brendon McCullum. That didn't stop Sehwag though. He pulled Jacob Oram for four to get to his half-century from 37 balls and then clipped one through midwicket for four more. Even Butler wasn't spared, with a cut for four and a swat through square-leg as the 100 of the innings came up in just 14 overs.
Vettori brought himself on immediately afterwards, but there was little respite. Dhoni cut one powerfully for four and then lofted one to the sightscreen, before Taylor's dramatic intervention gave New Zealand a sniff of a chance. When Yuvraj, bogged down by accurate bowling, followed soon after - a victim of his own hesitation between the wickets - India could have lost their way, but Dhoni and Raina hadn't forgotten their compasses or their range of strokes.
New Zealand never got the stroke-filled start that they needed. Zaheer Khan commenced with a maiden over, but it was Praveen Kumar who struck the crucial blow early on, having McCullum caught off the top edge at deep fine-leg. Jesse Ryder thumped him down to long-off for a four, but another attempted heave only found Sehwag inside the circle.
Only 23 runs came from the first eight overs of the Powerplay, but Taylor and Guptill then broke free with some attractive strokes. Taylor cut Munaf Patel for four, while Guptill lofted the ball sweetly down to the long-on boundary. With singles and twos being taken cleverly, the Indians were briefly rattled.
Taylor greeted Yusuf with a cut for four behind point, but a miscued slog-sweep only found Sachin Tendulkar at short fine-leg. Guptill continued to work the ball around cleverly, but with the fours drying up, the game began to drift away. And the pressure eventually told when Raina's throw from the deep found Elliott just short of his ground while going for a second run.
The rain then returned, and with 10 overs lopped off the innings, there was only time for New Zealand to go down swinging. Jacob Oram was caught behind off Yuvraj and Neil Broom stumped off Harbhajan. Guptill's resistance then ended with a fine catch by Gautam Gambhir at deep midwicket. Vettori ensured that his team wouldn't be bowled out, but that was little consolation on a day when New Zealand were second-best by a distance.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo