New Zealand's unbeaten record against India in Twenty20s continued today by beating the world champions by nine runs in their warm-up outing at Lord's. Several New Zealand batsmen chipped in with aggressive contributions to post an imposing total which their bowlers, led by the reliable Daniel Vettori, defended tenaciously against a powerful Indian batting line-up.
The India team had faced questions regarding fatigue and fitness because of their players' involvement in the lengthy IPL and they took the field without Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. Yuvraj Singh also did not play a part in the match although he was on the team sheet. However, it was because of the batsmen that performed in the IPL - Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja - that India challenged New Zealand's total of 170.
Sharma, who opened with Gautam Gambhir, slotted seamlessly into his new role and attacked from the outset against Iain O'Brien. With an extravagant follow through, Sharma deposited the ball into the stands at midwicket, pierced the in-field at point again, and launched the ball over long-off to take 18 runs off O'Brien's second over. The Indian fans had been gathering from the latter stages of the Ireland-Netherlands match, making themselves heard whenever the players were shown on the giant screen and now were shouting themselves hoarse.
Through all the excitement, though, Gambhir remained almost unnoticed, catching the attention only when he spooned Ian Butler to Martin Guptill at extra cover. India, however, raced to 55 in six overs and New Zealand needed more to curb the momentum. Vettori duly did the needful. He slipped one down the leg side as MS Dhoni advanced and had him stumped, despite a fumble from Brendon McCullum, before bowling Sharma a few balls later as the ball bobbled off the pads.
India suddenly had two new batsmen at the crease and New Zealand had an opening, but for a while it seemed Raina had slammed it shut. He plundered 19 runs off Vettori's second over, slog-sweeping twice over the midwicket boundary and drilling the ball straight down the ground.
He and Jadeja produced an impressive stand, adding 69 off 48 balls for the fourth wicket. It was only Raina's dismissal - caught by a diving Jesse Ryder off Jacob Oram for 45 - that turned the match in New Zealand's favour. Vettori bounced back strongly to dismiss Yusuf Pathan in another miserly over to finish with 3 for 24 and left India with too much to do in the last three overs.
That the New Zealand bowlers had enough to defend was due to a collective performance from their batsmen. While no one went on to make fifty, New Zealand always had a well set batsman at the crease to keep the momentum going. Brendon McCullum provided the impetus at the start, while Ross Taylor continued his good form from the latter stages of the IPL during the middle overs. Scott Styris chipped in with a useful innings and Franklin enhanced his newly-developed status as a batting allrounder with massive strikes towards the ends of the innings.
Most of the New Zealand batsmen favoured the leg-side boundary and some perished while trying to clear it. McCullum eventually skied a catch to midwicket, while Ryder, who failed to get out of his IPL rut, was bowled trying to swing across the line. Ishant Sharma was the bowler who dismissed both, making up for the void created by the shoulder injury to Zaheer.
Taylor carted Pragyan Ojha for two consecutive sixes over deep-square leg and dispatched the left-arm spinner to the deep midwicket boundary as well. Ishant returned to peg New Zealand back by inducing a top-edged pull from Oram, which was held by Harbhajan.
Taylor, too, fell in the 16th over when one slog-sweep against Harbhajan did not clear RP Singh. Styris kept the momentum going with a breezy 29 off 19 balls but it was Franklin who hurt India in the end. He laid into RP in the 20th over and deposited the ball beyond the straight boundary twice before pulling to midwicket for four. New Zealand managed 50 runs off their last four overs and that acceleration proved to be the difference.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo