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Entertainment hardly a byword for Indian series

Nathan Astle: one magic 22-run over off Srinath sealed fate of game

New Zealand's harder attitude is proving the key difference in the National Bank One-Day International Series with India and their five-wicket win in Christchurch today has given them a 3-0 lead in the seven-match series.
Again the pitch at Jade Stadium, proved like all but Napier's in New Zealand this summer, to be what New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming described as "challenging", although there was nothing to suggest that more batsmanship could not have netted India far more than 108 in their innings.

New Zealand showed in their chase, which took only 26.5 overs, that sometimes a positive approach can work wonders and that is what has helped this side into the rare position of being 3-0 up against a top-level rival.

One over of attack from Nathan Astle demonstrated the difference in attitude. He took 22 from Javagal Srinath's third over, with five fours and a two. Astle had told skipper Fleming over the lunch break that he was going to have a dip and Fleming was delighted.

It certainly left no chance for the sort of capitulation that saw New Zealand lose seven wickets when chasing the same total in the first match of the series in Auckland.

Astle's assault wasn't the New Zealand record for hitting, that is held by Lance Cairns who took 26 off an over bowled by Vinod John in Colombo in 1983/84, but it is thought to be the second best by a New Zealand batsman.

There was some encouragement for New Zealand in Astle's hitting and also the lengthy stay in the middle by Craig McMillan.

McMillan has scratched around the practice nets and match strips throughout New Zealand this summer in a bid to find something approaching form.

Signs were in Christchurch tonight that he might have found the missing link. Not that it was a situation resolved with an innings of earth-shattering brilliance. Rather it was an innings where a few boundaries hit around cricket's compass lightened the load that is borne with repetitious failure.

It was an innings where the sure knowledge that he was on top of his problems would have seen him unbeaten at the end. That wasn't to be as he drove a ball from Ajit Agarkar to Mohammad Kaif in the covers to be too easily dismissed to leave New Zealand 92 for five wickets. He had scored 22 off 45 balls, but probably most important of all, he spent 76 minutes in the middle.

India's batting, by comparison, is crumbling in a heap. This pitch was not one responsible for a score of 108.

This was an innings played out by batsmen lacking not only form, but also substance. The Indian confidence has clearly evaporated and it is difficult to wonder how they can possibly regain it before they head for home.

New Zealand's bowling was accurate but it was not menacing. Daryl Tuffey was treated to the respect to which he is now entitled. He became the best New Zealand performer against India with his performance of two for 11 from his 10 overs while Paul Hitchcock achieved his best figures in an ODI with three wickets for 30 runs.

The danger for New Zealand, as they look to the World Cup is that they figures they are achieving are being inflated by the lack of application of Indian batsmen who seem more intent on surviving this tour with body and soul intact and ensuring their passage to South Africa.

There can surely be no other reason for the inability to at least work the ball around for at least a score of 180.

In the history of one-day contests in New Zealand there has never been such a poor run of results by one side. The previous one was the 1993/94 series when New Zealand were mesmerised by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis when they were in their prime, but even they managed scores higher than what India are achieving.

Another problem for India is that with the low scores, it's bowlers are not getting an opportunity for consistent bowling under pressure. In this game Srinath bowled eight overs, Zaheer Khan bowled nine and Ajit Agarkar 8.5, but that was about all. They are forced into more defensive mode without the opportunity for bowling at a large total.

At least one thing working in India's favour was an improved fielding performance, although anything would have to be better than the Napier episode.

It was yet another disappointing match in a series which is failing to live up to the expectations of entertainment, and the hope has to be that India can find suitable inspiration from the surroundings they will find in Queenstown to keep this series alive until at least a little further down the road.