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14 March 201518:00 By Anand Vasu, Auckland

Raina, Dhoni guide India to sixth win

Taylor’s century on last game for Zimbabwe takes side to 287; India recovers well from 92/4 for six-wicket win

Raina, Dhoni guide India to sixth win - Cricket News

If Raina and Dhoni made the win appear easy in the end, it was far from a foregone conclusion through several passages of play in the first half.

In the four One-Day Internationals leading up to the World Cup, India managed just 267, 153, 69 for 2 and 200 in the tri-series in Australia, contriving even to lose to England. Since, then, it has racked up a perfect record, going six for six in the league phase of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, topping Pool B, when Zimbabwe was shaded by six wickets.

On an emotional day when Brendan Taylor stood, hand on heart, for the Zimbabwe national anthem one final time, and then raised his bat to a roaringly appreciative crowd after scoring his eighth ODI hundred, Zimbabwe fought, first putting 287 on the board, then scalping early wickets.

But, India just had too much firepower in its ranks. The largely untested middle order was summoned to earn its bread, and Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni put together a typically energetic partnership, having come together at 92 for 4.

Zimbabwe’s opening bowlers, Tendai Chatara and Tinashe Panyangara, were lively and probing. However, the part-time spin of Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza, on a pitch that offered no purchase, saw Raina wading in, picking his spot in the arc between midwicket and long-off.

If Raina, who was dropped on 47 by Hamilton Masakadza, a gentle skier being grassed at short fine-leg, was occasionally scratchy, especially at the beginning of his innings, Dhoni was completely in control from the moment he arrived at the crease. At first, Dhoni was quiet, knocking the ball into the gaps and working those mighty pistons in his thighs to barrel up and down the pitch for ones and twos. But, when offered the latitude, Dhoni was not shy, bringing his ultra heavy blade decisively down on the ball.

Having missed their chance to separate the Dhoni-Raina pair, Zimbabwe could only watch helplessly as Taylor’s last hurrah turned into yet another defeat, their fifth in six games in this World Cup. Raina brought up his fifth ODI century, his first in a World Cup, and rattled along to 110, while Dhoni made an unrattled 85 in the partnership of 196, as India raced home with eight balls to spare.

If Raina and Dhoni made the win appear easy in the end, it was far from a foregone conclusion through several passages of play in the first half, when Zimbabwe was asked to bat. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami swung the ball late, at pace, and the going wasn’t easy for the opening batsmen, who played and missed plenty before both heading back to the dressing-room inside the fifth over. Solomon Mire hung his bat out to make it 33 for 3, and India was all over Zimbabwe.

It was here that Taylor and Sean Williams took the game by the scruff of the neck. Safety was their prime objective, and seeing off the new ball was key. To this end, it mattered little that the scoreboard was stuck, Zimbabwe reaching only 63 for 3 after 16 overs.

With the base laid, however, Taylor began to open up. Down the ground he was magnificent, presenting the full face of the bat, and against spinners Taylor reverse-swept fearlessly.

Williams preferred to target the midwicket fence, coming down the pitch to tonk the ball over the ropes and occasionally dragging deliveries from outside off to his preferred region.

The partnership for the fourth wicket was seven short of three figures when India managed to break through, Williams (50) driving back towards the bowler to be well caught by R Ashwin bending low.

Taylor slowed down a touch after getting into the 90s, but his strike rate was still excellent, and when Shami bounced, a naughty ramp shot was executed perfectly, sending the ball sailing into the stands and taking Taylor to his century. No other Zimbabwe batsman had scored back-to-back World Cup hundreds, and the manner in which Taylor constructed his innings was a reminder of just what Zimbabwe would miss in the near future.

Taylor then began to get a move on, taking 25 runs off a Ravindra Jadeja over that read 144646 and included sweet hits to square-leg, midwicket, long-off, fine-leg and long-on, demonstrating the range of the strokes at the batsman’s disposal.

Taylor, who had climbed to second spot in the tournament run-getters list and became the first Zimbwean to top 400 in a World Cup, fell on 138 from only 110 balls, trying to muscle a ball over mid-on but failing to connect cleanly. In the final 29 balls he faced, Taylor had biffed 70, the perfect acceleration after accumulating 63 from his first 81 balls. Several Indian players shook Taylor’s hand, and as the crowd roared in warm applause, Taylor soaked it in one final time. It was a great way to go.

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