28 January 2014
Taylor special gives NZ series win
Batsman’s unbeaten century helps chase down India’s 278 for 5 in 48.1 overs for seven-wicket win
Ross Taylor (2nd L) and Brendon McCullum (3rd L) walk off the field after winning the match for New Zealand.
Opting to bat after winning the toss, India squandered whatever advantage there might have been of taking first strike by limping to 28 for 2 after 10 overs. A change in personnel, with Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina left out, necessitated a rejigged batting order, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted to push Virat Kohli up to open the batting alongside Rohit Sharma.
Kohli’s only five previous instances as an opener had come in his debut series in Sri Lanka in the second half of 2008 while Ajinkya Rahane has performed that role 16 times in his previous 21 games. By taking Kohli out of his preferred No. 3 slot, India had done itself no favours, and it came as no surprise that Kohli perished in the fourth over, caught off a mistimed pull at midwicket.
Its best batsman having departed early, India failed to make any headway. Rohit once again ate up plenty of deliveries at the start and even though he made up for it towards the closing stages of his 94-ball 79, India’s 10-over tally was to come back to haunt it.
In some danger of being bowled out well inside its 50 overs after stumbling to 151 for 5 in the 34th, India recovered splendidly through Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, his confidence clearly sky-high after his heroics at Eden Park. The sixth-wicket duo slammed undefeated half-centuries and put on 127 in just 101 deliveries to haul India to 278 for 5, a total that was certainly competitive on a surface where the ball held up on pitching and made shot-making difficult.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, in particular, began extremely poorly, making shot-making appear the easiest of tasks at the top of the New Zealand chase. The first 13 deliveries produced six fours as Martin Guptill and Jesse Ryder laid into short, wide gifts; India dismissed both openers by the ninth over but again found no way to separate Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, whose ninth ODI ton steered his team to 280 for 3 with 11 deliveries to spare.
There might have been a way to separate the duo had Dhoni persisted with Jadeja and R Ashwin for a little longer. Jadeja’s first two deliveries to Williamson spat off a length and turned considerably; Ashwin had one massive shout for leg before against Taylor turned down as the batsman completely misread the carrom ball. Where the quicks had leaked 65 in the first 10, the spin tandem gave away only 30 in the next 10 when Dhoni took both off the attack, and eased the noose that was gradually beginning to settle around the New Zealand’s batsmen’s necks.
Thrown a lifeline, Williamson and Taylor did their bidding. Taylor was truly exceptional, his cutting of the highest order but also a damning indictment of the length India’s quicker bowlers bowled. Where he had looked ill at ease against Ashwin, he welcomed the infusion of pace with crunching strokes off the back foot, peppering the square boundary on the offside as he struck it hard and clean.
Williamson, subdued for large periods and only occasionally shimmying down the track to hit forcefully in the air, was content to bat around his more established partner as the duo strung together their third substantial partnership of the series. Having put on 121 in Napier and 60 here in Hamilton last week, they added 130 in 158 deliveries to all but set up victory, Williamson departing after a fourth straight half-century thanks to outstanding fielding on his follow-through by Jadeja, who sprinted across to midwicket, picked up the ball, turned and pinged the stumps at the bowler’s end.
Brendon McCullum, in desperate need of runs after successive ducks, was put down by Shami on his follow-through and fortunate not to be adjudged leg before to Ashwin but by the end, he was back in his element, smearing the ball to all corners to warm up nicely for the Test series and bringing up victory with a giant six over long-off off Varun Aaron.
Taylor, of course, was a picture of composed elegance once he had tided over his initial discomfort against Ashwin. The runs came quickly, yet in unhurried fashion; the only time he has missed out in this series was in Auckland when he was run out. Having dropped Rohit at slip on 4 off Southee, he perhaps felt he owed his team a few. There was no denying him on Tuesday as he bore down on three-figures, fittingly reaching his hundred with a searing cut over point off Shami.
India might do well to think about cutting out the pull stroke. Four of its top six had perished to that stroke in the first game; here, its first three batsmen all fell playing that shot, undone not by pace and bounce but by the very absence of those commodities. While Kohli mistimed his stroke, Rahane unerringly found long leg and Ambati Rayudu, in his first game for five months, sliced one for Luke Ronchi to hold a simple catch.
By then, Rayudu had done his bit to infuse some urgency into the Indian innings. With Rohit struggling to get the ball off the square, Rayudu took a liking to Hamish Bennett, repeatedly whipping him through the onside for boundaries to somewhat offset excellent opening – and eventually closing – bursts from Kyle Mills and Tim Southee.
Rayudu had helped add 79 with Rohit when he fell against the run of play, by which time Rohit had found some semblance of touch with a glorious offdrive off James Neesham – coming in for the rested Corey Anderson – that catalysed a welcome change in fluency. But when he was strangled down the legside off Williamson’s part-time offspin and Ashwin – promoted for a second time in two games – fell on the upper cut three deliveries later, India was in a deep hole.
Jadeja came in at No. 7, ahead of Stuart Binny – the debutant didn’t bat and had just the one over to bowl – and heeded Dhoni’s strong words with so many overs still in the bag. He gave Nathan McCullum’s offspin more respect than it perhaps deserved as the Batting Power Play yielded a frugal 24; then, without warning, Jadeja switched gears. He played a wonderfully attractive hand, using the pull stroke to devastating effect during his second successive fifty even as Dhoni continued to come to terms with the lack of pace off the pitch.
Dhoni’s USP, however, has been to keep at it, no matter what, and while this was far from his most authoritative innings, he continued to cock a snook at the law of averages by registering his third half-century on the trot after having warmed up with 40 in the first game. The last 10 overs fetched 100; with a little more common sense, the bowlers could have made that count. Instead, India was left ruing another missed opportunity, another series lost overseas.
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