New boy Matt Henry returns 4 for 38 after starring roles from Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor with the bat to seal 4-0 series win
India’s humiliation in the One-Day International leg of its five-week tour of New Zealand was complete in front of 13,729 relatively muted spectators at Westpac Stadium on Friday (January 31).
The cohesion India was looking for all through the series deserted them yet again as it was blown away by established order and newcomer alike, its reputation as a limited-overs side outside of the subcontinent lying in tatters with its sixth defeat, this time by 87 runs, in seven completed matches in the last two months.
Having already surrendered the series 3-0, India would have hoped for a better result in the final game, but when hope isn’t met by determination, there lies nothing but abject failure. New Zealand had familiar heroes in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, and an unexpected one in Matt Henry, the 22-year-old, who capped a fairytale initiation into international cricket with a four-wicket haul. India could hardly look beyond Virat Kohli. That in essence summed up Friday’s tepid proceedings.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni would have been better off giving Ishwar Pandey and Amit Mishra a run out, but the captain chose to keep faith with the same pace trio that was battered in the two previous games. At various times, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron, who worked up serious pace, repaid that faith but India was again punished for its inability to separate the Williamson-Taylor tandem.
Put in after Dhoni won his fifth consecutive toss, New Zealand amassed 303 for 5 on the back of Taylor’s second straight hundred, Williamson’s fifth fifty of the series, and their stand of 152. There was good pace and no little bounce in the drop-in pitch; there was also some swing that Shami and Bhuvneshwar made use of early on, but after calling the shots in the first ten overs, which New Zealand reached at 31 for 1, only one team was in the game.
Kohli and Dhoni again played their parts, but India’s batting began and ended with them. New Zealand displayed no let-up in intensity in the dead rubber as it shot India out for 216 to consign them to the heaviest of its four losses.
India needed Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, returning for Stuart Binny, to get it off to some kind of a start, but neither looked in any comfort. Kyle Mills was accuracy personified during his first spell, Mitchell McClenaghan was more than passable and Henry impressive as they all bowled back of a length, hurrying a heavy ball on to the bat and testing the top order’s technique and resolve.
Not for the first time, the batsmen were found wanting. Rohit played the most elegant steer imaginable in a dismissal, surprising Taylor with the felicity with which he offered catching practice in the slip cordon, while Dhawan poked uncertainly at Henry in his second over and was caught at second slip. Ajinkya Rahane’s tally for the series ended at 51 as he played a crude heave across the line to be trapped in front, again by Henry, and at 30 for 3, it was all over.
Kohli carried on unflustered. After beginning the series strongly, he had tapered off in the last two games. Determined to play himself back into form before the Test series, he took his time but then played some of the most glorious strokes of the evening, including one front foot pull off Henry that went screaming to the fence.
Dhoni was his usual industrious self but, once again, he had been left with too much to do by his repeatedly misfiring top order that has to be held accountable now. Kohli’s dismissal gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about also because he was caught by substitute fielder Peter Younghusband, an Under-19 Central Districts player.
Henry caught the eye with the ease with which he took to international cricket; 48 hours before the game, he was on his way to a first-class fixture when he was almost plucked out of the aircraft. To walk in straightaway and showcase his skills spoke volumes of his adaptability and temperament.
There is, of course, no doubting these qualities in either Williamson or Taylor. Having been united in a crisis at 41 for 2 in the 13th over, they had a job on their hands, particularly with India having made its best start with the ball of the series. Three of Shami’s first four overs were maidens, and with Bhuvneshwar too falling into a nice rhythm, Jesse Ryder was forced to take chances even as Martin Guptill ate up 19 deliveries for one run.
Ryder, who didn’t field with a bruised thigh, fell attempting one big shot too many and Aaron made up for dropping Guptill at mid on when he got rid of him in his second over. Like it had more than once earlier, India had a look-in at the middle order; like it had been more than once earlier, it was emphatically pushed back by Williamson and Taylor, who put on their third 100-stand of the series and pushed their tally for the third wicket to 463 in four innings in the series.
What was remarkable was the complete ease with which the runs came. There were no crude hoicks, no panicky slogging, no stuttering running between the wickets. It was as if there had been a seamless transition from their last innings, when they put on 130, to this one. Their mastery of India’s spinners in the middle overs was exceptional – neither R Ashwin nor Ravindra Jadeja procured any assistance and were comfortably outperformed by Nathan McCullum later in the night. Williamson repeatedly danced down the track and hit Ashwin over the infield on the offside when he was not working him to leg. The vastness and the slowness of the outfield didn’t always bring boundaries, but he and Taylor hared between the wickets as they tested India’s athleticism, resolve and throwing arms.
Taylor played with the greater authority, once again finding ways to reach the offside boundary as India faded after the promising start. Powerful square on the offside, he went after Aaron with a sequence of boundaries even as Williamson held back. Then, once he brought up his fifth fifty of the series, Williamson went on overdrive, laying into Jadeja.
Having become only the second batsman after Yasir Hameed to hit a half-century in every single match of a bilateral five-game series, Williamson unfurled his wide range of strokes. He stormed on from 50 in 64 deliveries to 88 in just 24 more balls and looked primed for his first hundred of the series when Aaron got him in the Batting Power Play, caught on the drive at point.
If anyone deserved a hundred, it was Williamson. Taylor must have felt for his soulmate of this series, but he didn’t allow that to affect him as he closed in on his second successive century. No fancy stuff, no belligerent striking; he left the heavy duty stuff to the power hitters, Brendon McCullum and James Neesham throwing their bats around. Without resorting to desperation, Taylor continued to score freely even though India did pull things back post the Batting Power Play, and eventually brought up his tenth ODI ton before being dismissed next ball.