Inexperienced New Zealand learn from defeat
New Zealand's Dambulla adventure had started so promisingly, with their biggest win over India, but it ended on a disheartening note for their inexperienced side, which was eliminated after a 105-run defeat in the final league match.
Hamstrung by the absence of senior bowlers, Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram, New Zealand were unable to keep the pressure on India after their bowlers inflicted another top-order collapse. Their captain, Ross Taylor, picked out the 107-run stand between Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni for the fifth wicket as the turning point.
"The partnership between Sehwag and Dhoni was about 100-odd and we lost by that margin," he said. "We were just outplayed in all areas of the game. India played well and we didn't."
After that partnership, New Zealand prised out the final five wickets for 24 runs, restricting India to 223, which Man of the Match Sehwag didn't think was enough at the time. "I didn't think it was a winning total," he said. "But since they had only two experienced batsmen in Styris and Taylor, we knew if we could get early wickets, we would put them under pressure."
Both Styris and Taylor were part of a feeble batting performance, which began so poorly that New Zealand's chances of victory evaporated as early as the ninth over. "I guess we didn't start well and, when you get put on the back foot straightaway, a total like 220 is a long way away," Taylor said. "They bowled well but our batters, we just didn't step up. It's disappointing to finish the tournament on a poor note."
New Zealand briefly threatened to break the record for their lowest total in ODIs but avoided that embarrassment thanks to an entertaining, but futile, half-century from vice-captain Kyle Mills. He lashed two straight sixes off Ravindra Jadeja and one powerful pull over square leg off Praveen Kumar on his way to a 35-ball 52. From 52 for 7, Mills hauled New Zealand to a more respectable 118.
"When I went out to bat, I just tried to be as aggressive as I possibly could," Mills said. "There probably was no expectation of you to go out and chase down 220 runs. I was fortunate I was able to get myself in for the first six or so balls and I decided I would be aggressive. I got a couple in my areas and I was able to get them away."
While the margin of defeat was dispiriting, Taylor said there were plenty of gains for New Zealand during the tournament, and chose Andy McKay and Kane Williamson as players to watch. "One of the biggest things is probably the experience over here, and the experience we have given some youngsters."
McKay was the fastest of New Zealand's bowlers while Williamson had a tough initiation to international cricket, making ducks in his first two matches. "I guess Andy McKay is not young but he is very raw and the way he has bowled over the last two or three games is exciting," Taylor said. "Williamson, we didn't see the best of him with the bat, but his bowling - he's a better bowler than a part-timer. If he can keep improving both skills, then we can take that."
Dambulla's pitch wasn't the typical flat, batting wicket expected of the subcontinent, which would have been ideal preparation for next year's World Cup, but New Zealand will get a taste of those conditions in their next assignment, a full tour of India starting in early November.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo