India recovered from four down in the first 10 overs to post a competitive 252 courtesy Ambati Rayudu's 90 and Hardik Pandya's 22-ball 45 in the fifth one-day international against New Zealand.
New Zealand were bowled out for 217 and conceded the game by 35 runs to lose the series 4-1 on Sunday, 3 February, in Wellington.
With India 18/4 inside 10 overs, and all of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill and Mahendra Singh Dhoni back inside, a repeat of the previous game, where they were bowled for 92, seemed likely. Fortunately for the visitors, Rayudu and Vijay Shankar combined for a match-saving 98-run stand for the fifth wicket.
Vijay, in his fourth ODI but his first time coming out to bat, looked assured, allowing his senior to bat around him. Rayudu took his time initially, settling down and then knocking the ball around in the gaps.
The No.4 brought up his half-century off 86 balls with four fours and two sixes, but that was not before he was involved in an unfortunate mix-up with Shankar, who was run-out on 45.
India were again in a bit of trouble at 116/5 in the 32nd over, but Kedar Jadhav played the perfect foil to Rayudu. The settled batsman took a few risks and upped the ante, hitting Colin Munro for two sixes and a four in the 40th over, then smashing Matt Henry for three fours in two overs to move into the 90s.
He could not reach his hundred, though, as he miscued a Henry delivery and found Munro at deep cover.
It was a blessing in disguise for India, as Pandya walked out at No.8. Even though he lost Jadhav (34) soon, he took the attack to New Zealand at the death. He hit Todd Astle for three consecutive sixes in the 47th over and then Boult for one more before taking Neesham for two fours and a six in the penultimate over.
His five sixes and two fours before being dismissed in the final over had given India a total to defend.
Chasing 253 runs, the hosts did not get the best of starts with Mohammed Shami having Henry Nicholls (8) caught by Jadhav at short mid-wicket in the fourth over.
And while Colin Munro (24) threatened by hitting Bhuvneshwar Kumar for consecutive boundaries, his stay was cut short by Shami as well, as he chopped on to his stumps. When Ross Taylor (1) was trapped lbw by Pandya in his first over, New Zealand were in trouble at 38/3.
Captain Kane Williamson (39) took it upon himself to resurrect the innings. Taking a cue from Rayudu's book, he batted patiently to add 67 runs with Tom Latham to take New Zealand past 100.
However, just when it looked like he had got his eye in, he mistimed a Jadhav delivery straight to Shikhar Dhawan at deep mid-wicket. Latham followed soon after, misreading a Yuzvendra Chahal googly and New Zealand were reduced to 119/5.
When Colin de Grandhomme was trapped in front, too, it looked all but over for the hosts. But Neesham, getting a hit for the first time in the series, took the attack to the Indian pacers, hitting Pandya for a six in the 34th before taking Shami for two fours in the 35th to make it a run-a-ball in the last 15 overs.
When Bhuvneshwar Kumar conceded 10 off two balls, it looked like Neesham had put the hosts back in with a shot. That was not to be, though, as street-smart fielding by Dhoni behind the stumps sent him back. Dhoni leaped towards the ball and broke the stumps even as Neesham was distracted by an lbw appeal and was out of his crease.
The last three New Zealand wickets added 44 runs, but it wasn't enough. Chahal finished with 3/41 and Shami and Pandya returned with two wickets apiece.
For New Zealand, Boult (3/39) and Henry (4/35) had been the pick of the bowlers. Boult got Dhawan caught in the deep and breached Dhoni's defence even as Henry got one through Sharma and made Gill drive at a wide one, only to lob a catch to short cover.
Unlike last time, though, there would be no repeat of the middle-order collapse for India.
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