Sehwag powers India to series win
Virender Sehwag blasted India's fastest ODI hundred as the visitors swept to a comprehensive win that secured their maiden one-day series triumph in New Zealand. Sehwag reached three-figures off 60 balls with a signature six and his awe-inspiring hitting overshadowed Gautam Gambhir's near run-a-ball half-century. Daniel Vettori and the rest of the New Zealand bowlers were powerless in the face of the onslaught and what had seemed a challenging target was chased down with ridiculous ease. Even the two stoppages due to rain couldn't stem the run-deluge with Sehwag completing his century as early as the 18th over.
Astonishingly, only five runs came behind square on the off side, generally Sehwag's favourite hitting area. But the batsman still displayed his range of strokes in one Iain O'Brien over, hitting four fours off five balls: a powerful pull to midwicket, a drive that nearly took the bowler's head off, a whip off his pads and a pull-drive over mid-on to a short delivery.
In an innings filled with scintillating strokeplay, Sehwag was at his most murderous when play resumed following a rain break at the 10-over mark. With intermittent showers holding up play at regular intervals, Sehwag decided to make sure there was an early finish - in a five-over period, starting from the 12th over, he moved from 52 to 92. The high backlift showed his intentions as he set about dismantling O'Brien, Ewen Thompson and Jacob Oram. Only Daniel Vettori's intelligent variations of pace managed to draw a measure of respect from Sehwag.
Spare a thought for the debutant Thompson, who sends down gentle medium-pacers of the sort New Zealand so favoured in the 90s. After more than eight years of toil on the domestic scene, he was rewarded with a place on the national team, only to come up against a rampaging Sehwag on a small ground and a benign track with field restrictions in place. His four overs were taken for 42 runs, Sehwag's mighty hit into the scoreboard behind midwicket being the pick of the strokes against him.
There was some respite for the bowlers when they bowled at Gambhir, who played the straight man to Sehwag, just nudging the ball around to pick up the singles. There weren't too many big hits, one of the standout shots of his innings being a deft leg-glance off Oram.
The Gambhir-Sehwag show was reminiscent of the frenetic hitting from Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder in the previous ODI at Hamiltion. The New Zealand pair put on a century stand this time around as well after Vettori chose to bat on a pitch offering some early assistance to the bowlers, but it was a less frenzied affair. It was the perfect base for New Zealand, but with Ross Taylor and Oram failing to fire again, India were able to scrap their way back into the game. Peter McGlashan, who made an inventive half-century, and Grant Elliott were unfazed by a couple of rain breaks and cobbled together 95 runs off the last 10 overs.
Ryder did much of the early scoring, but had a torrid time against the new-ball bowlers. Praveen Kumar's away-swingers had him fishing outside offstump and he also struggled to cope with Zaheer Khan's indippers.
At the other end, McCullum made a serene start; content to leave anything outside off, and always on the lookout for the tip-and-run single. At one stage, he had 3 off 20 deliveries. However once he got his eye in, he picked up the pace and the doddering run-rate rose towards a respectable six per over.
India's part-time spinners were brought on to stem the runs and both Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan did their job. Yuvraj was unlucky not to have dismissed McCullum - Mahendra Singh Dhoni botching a simple stumping chance - but got rid of Ryder; a slog-sweep swirling to Suresh Raina at square leg.
Taylor gifted his wicket soon after and with Martin Guptill not finding any fluency, it was left to McCullum to push the tempo. The Indian fast bowlers took some important wickets, including that of McCullum, during the batting Powerplay (from the 34th over) to leave New Zealand struggling at 185 for 5 after 38 overs.
It was left to McGlashan and Elliott to rectify the damage. McGlashan showed off his repertoire of sweeps - orthodox, paddle, and reverse - even against the quicks to keep the runs flowing while Elliott adopted a more orthodox approach. Fifty-one runs came off the final four overs after the second rain break to help set a target that was expected to test India's batting might. However, Sehwag and Gambhir barely broke into a sweat when they came into bat.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo