Virender Sehwag: second century of the series sets India up for victory
It was the result the National Bank Series has been crying out for and it was a genuine thriller at Eden Park as India got home over New Zealand by one wicket with one ball of the game to spare tonight.
New Zealand have already won the seven-game series but India wanted to win the last three to claim something of a moral victory.
They are well on the way to achieving that but New Zealand have once again been able to expose themselves to another potential World Cup situation in a series they have already won.
Virender Sehwag had set India up brilliantly with a fine innings of 112 off 139 balls. He was dismissed off the last ball of the 42nd over, and because India were docked one over for slow over rate, they had seven overs available in which to score the 18 remaining runs.
But India almost blew it, and that was without New Zealand being able to call on fast man Shane Bond, who would have been ideal in the situation.
He was off the field suffering an infection of the middle ear, which started to hinder him when he was bowling.
Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif pottered around attempting to get used to the pace of the pitch but found it a struggle and they came up against the unlikely, but wily, bowling combination of Chris Harris bowling seamers and Andre Adams.
Yuvraj was out when caught in the slips by Stephen Fleming off Harris for eight in the 46th over.
In the next over Sanjay Bangar was trapped leg before wicket by Adams for one.
Agit Agarkar came out to be run out for a duck after Fleming changed fielding position and took the ball at mid on to lob it to Harris who lifted the bails.
India went into the last over needing four runs to win.
Kaif was bowled by Adams for seven. Then off the next ball Javagal Srinath swung hard at a leg-side ball from Adams, and when he recovered from the exertions of his shot he found Zaheer Khan standing at the crease beside him. By this time wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum was firing the ball back to the bowler's end where Adams ran out Khan.
Umpire Daryl Harper heightened the tension by awarding a wide from the dismissal ball.
Srinath then ran a leg bye from the next ball and last man in Ashish Nehra faced up to the penultimate ball, with the New Zealand field right up. He slashed at the ball and ran the single to claim the victory for his side.
It was some overdue tension and while the loss was hard to take for the home team, they learned some invaluable lessons about their own indisciplines which cost them dearly.
Poor fielding, Sehwag was dropped twice, a hard chance by Harris off Kyle Mills' bowling on 36 and on 63 by Fleming off Daryl Tuffey saw them punished. Several run out chances also went close.
As exercises go it was as good as it could possibly get in a match situation.
That any cricket was played at all was a wonder given the conditions 12 hours before the scheduled start time of 2pm. But after the heavy rain of the two previous days, the day dawned fine and with a drying breeze blowing, the ground dried well enough for play to start 15 minutes later. There was no reduction in overs as time was taken off the dinner break.
New Zealand struggled through all but the last three or four overs of the innings. In yet another example of pitches doing too much sideways, the boot was on the Indian foot for a change, and the veteran Srinath used his knowledge superbly.
Of concern was the manner in which he dismissed Chris Cairns, batting at No 4, through the same gap between bat and pad that he was bowled in the previous game in Wellington. Srinath bowled 10 overs for three for 13 and moved to 297 wickets in One-Day Internationals.
Mathew Sinclair opening again in Nathan Astle's absence scored 18 off 54 balls to give the most graphic demonstration of how difficult it was to move the score along. Fleming had been the first to go off the third ball bowled by left-armer Nehra. The first two balls he had punished but then touched one behind.
Harris' time at No 3 was brief as he was trapped by Agarkar, leg before wicket for a duck.
It was a struggle and by the time Cairns went for 13, New Zealand four 50 for four wickets.
The first signs of recovery came from Scott Styris and Lou Vincent, who sensibly worked the ones and twos with some attacking running while they also took care of anything errant, with some vicious pull shots on Styris' part.
They added 80 in 20 overs before Styris, attempting to force the pace, was caught at mid-off for 42, scored off 52 balls.
McCullum was run out without facing a ball and Mills followed in quick order, also for a duck as New Zealand slumped to 134 for seven wickets. Adams was unable to fire and was bowled by Khan for two while Tuffey was run out at 147 and it seemed it just required Vincent and the last batsman Bond to move the ball around to see out the 50 overs.
They did better than that in what was the best clean hitting of the series.
Bond was magnificent in hitting three sixes, two of them huge hits, one into the stand behind the bowler Sourav Ganguly and one into the upper deck of the West Stand, one of the biggest hits on the ground.
Vincent joined the act and brought up his half century, his fourth in ODIs, with a six off Khan in the last over.
By the time the innings ended at 199 for nine wickets, they had scored 52 runs off 23 balls.
Khan and Ganguly had their previous tight bowling punished in their last two overs, Ganguly going for 18 off his last and Khan for 15 and 19 off his last two. New Zealand finished their innings with a hiss and a roar, and India started theirs in the same fashion with Sehwag and Ganguly enjoying their best stand of the series.
They added 70 runs in 15 overs for the first wicket.
New Zealand's bowlers conceded 12 wides and nine no-balls which was too many under the circumstances and suggested a lack of focus to the levels that had served them so well earlier in the series.
The stage has been set for a competitive finale in Hamilton on Tuesday.