It was a baptism by fire for the new man in-charge, Brendon McCullum, who was left to pick up the pieces after yet another disappointing bowling performance from New Zealand. That they managed to give India a scare with the bat while chasing 393, and kept the game alive till Kyle Mills became the ninth wicket to fall in the 45th over, gives them some confidence despite knowing they can't win the series from here on.
"We could have easily been rolled out for 150," McCullum said. "We would have been a long way back in the series if that had happened. We know we have shown a bit of fight today and put India under a bit of pressure. We never really gave up hope of trying to win a game. That can hold you in good stead. As long as we remain confident, we give ourselves a shot in the next game. If we drop that confidence, we will get rolled in the series."
For McCullum, who had to captain the side because Daniel Vettori left to be with his wife who was expecting their child today, the day started with a surprising move. Conventional wisdom would have it that New Zealand would bat on winning the toss; a couple of their players have said they want to put some kind of pressure on Virender Sehwag before he comes in to bat. But McCullum stuck to their traditional strength - chasing. He kept wishing he had chosen otherwise for "probably about 50 overs' worth of them".
"From our perspective, we are strong chasers," McCullum said. "So I thought the wicket may provide some assistance early on. But the way they batted was amazing."
Following the wrong decision at the toss, nothing went right for New Zealand. First and foremost, their best bowler was missing. "Would have been nice to have Dan's [Vettori's] 10 overs blocked away for 35 runs," McCullum said. "To lose five overs of Ian Butler [who had to go off with a side strain], Jake [Jacob Oram] who is not able to bowl his full 10 [because he has just come back from injury], and other guys not bowling as well as they would have liked, we were always going to come up a bit short.
"For a few times, they [the bowlers] were lost and uncertain about how they were going to restrict their aggressiveness. Small boundaries were always a factor. As a bowler, you know if you get it slightly wrong, you will disappear. That obviously plays on the mind. We weren't accurate enough and in areas that we needed to be." Perhaps the bowlers slackened a bit after they got the big wicket of Sehwag, and Sachin Tendulkar saw that and didn't let them off lightly.
Things improved for New Zealand with the bat, though, and it had to do with a special century from the prodigal Jesse Ryder. It took a big effort from Tendulkar earlier in the day to put Ryder in the background. "Jesse played brilliantly," McCullum said. "It was a brilliant hundred, but in most games it would win you the game. I though he was fantastic. The way he played with such a still base and quite a relaxed attitude, the things are moving forward for him. He will take a lot of confidence from this innings."
New Zealand may be two down with two to go, but they will definitely take confidence from how they managed to fluster India with their reply. McCullum cited the two beamers bowled by Munaf Patel towards the end as an example of how they had put India under pressure.
But the hosts will know the injury list is growing, the form book is thin as far as the bowlers are concerned, and time is running out.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo