A team in the doldrums after three comprehensive defeats sprung back to life thanks to the all-round efforts of their most exciting and marketable young cricketer, Jesse Ryder. His miserly spell of 3 for 29 sunk India to a paltry 149, but it was his delightful exhibition of lusty hitting which caught the imagination of the capacity crowd at the Eden Park stadium. Supported by an equally stylish Martin Guptill - who slammed an unbeaten 57 - Ryder put New Zealand on the path to a consolation win. His only blemish was that he could not stay till the end.
It was as if New Zealand were playing on a different surface. The kind of swing which their bowlers managed in India's innings was seemingly absent under lights and the ease with which Ryder went about bludgeoning the bowlers over the on side with exquisite pulls showed how the Indians were outplayed in the batting department.
India's only chance of mounting a fightback was to pick up early wickets but after Brendon McCullum's dismissal in the third over, they had to wait more than 12 overs for their next breakthrough, by which time Ryder and Guptill had already added 84.
Guptill and Ryder are New Zealand's most exciting batting talents and the cheers from the packed Eden Park stadium for their rising stars never died down. Perhaps the busiest people at the venue were the workers at the construction site on one side of the ground who had to fish the ball out of the rubble and unfinished stands.
Praveen Kumar suffered initially as Ryder lofted him over the on side with the swing but the fiercest punishment was reserved for Ishant Sharma. To be fair, not all the deliveries deserved to go for boundaries and it took a special effort from Ryder to pick the length early, get on the top of the bounce and club a ball from outside off with minimal foot movement. After one such biff over deep midwicket, Ishant gave him a glare, muttered a few words and Ryder nonchalantly spread his arms and wondered what the fuss was all about.
When the ball was pitched up outside off, he crashed it past a packed off-side field; when it was pitched short, he hooked wide of fine leg. Ishant finally dismissed him, Ryder lazily chopping one onto his stumps, but in the end the batsman had the last laugh.
Guptill, who recently scored a debut ODI hundred at the same venue, steered his team home and his knock was just as exhilarating. Like Ryder, his stand and deliver approach from the crease without much of a follow through is rather pleasing. Fractionally short deliveries were smashed over the infield and all were clean hits. He brought up his fifty with an effortless swat over wide long-on before finishing the game with a pulled four over square leg.
There was a clear difference in the manner in which New Zealand went about their task, bowling to pick wickets instead of merely containing a trigger-happy top order. The faster ones like Iain O'Brien hit the deck harder and the slower ones like Ryder pitched it up and extracted movement. It brought back memories of the opening Twenty20 in Christchurch where India wasted a good start due to overconfidence.
Sehwag's blazing knock gave India momentum and one nightmare of an over by O'Brien, which cost 19 runs, threatened to propel them to yet another sizeable score. However, a timely bowling change shifted the momentum in New Zealand's favour when Jacob Oram removed Suresh Raina and Virender Sehwag in quick succession. These dismissals put the skids on the run rate as India - who had motored at over six an over - managed only 15 off the next five after Sehwag departed.
The effectiveness of New Zealand's support bowlers was under scrutiny, but for a change they got it right today. Ryder got the ball to swing, cramped the batsmen for room and the duo of Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma couldn't consolidate. Yuvraj fell to a tame poke outside off, Mahendra Singh Dhoni played down the wrong line and Yusuf Pathan dragged one onto the stumps.
Rohit tried to break free amid the wobble, but his form wasn't entirely convincing. The lack of positive energy was there to see in the running between the wickets, leading to two run-outs. The result was a disappointing one for the huge contingent of Indians at the ground but the entertainment provided by Ryder and Guptill gave them their money's worth.