Corey Anderson, the powerful left-hand batsman, had unleashed such mayhem towards the end of the New Zealand innings in the afternoon that from eyeing 270, New Zealand finished on 292 for 7 after being put in by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Anderson smashed an unbeaten 68 off just 40 deliveries, subjecting the Indians to such punishment that they positively fell apart towards the end. Having begun brightly through Mohammed Shami, who returned career-best figures of 4 for 55, India held its own during a century stand for the third wicket between Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, but once Anderson rattled along, they had no answers.
For India to scale down 293, it needed someone from the top order to play an outstanding hand. Kohli did that, reaching a magical 18th ODI hundred in only his 119th innings, but apart from Dhoni, who helped him add 95 for the fifth wicket in just 85 deliveries, he was largely playing a lone hand.
Even so, till Kohli was in the middle, India was in with a chance. But when he smashed a full toss from Mitchell McClenaghan (4/68) to Jesse Ryder at cover after a sparkling 123 off 111 deliveries, it was all over bar the shouting. India was bowled out for 268, giving New Zealand victory by 24 runs and a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
India had only lost once previously when Kohli had made a hundred – against England in Cardiff in 2011 – and Sunday marked just the first instance of a Kohli ton in a chase going in vain. But that was hardly Kohli’s fault. Having seen a slew of batsmen – a totally becalmed Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and eventually Dhoni – perish to the pull did little to dent his focus or his confidence as he took on New Zealand’s best with such audacity that it took one’s breath away.
New Zealand unleashed Adam Milne, the 21-year-old who left midway through his eighth over clutching his side, but Kohli was exemplary in handling the right-arm quick. Milne’s fastest ball of the evening was clocked at 153.4 kmph; Kohli simply punched it back past the bowler, the ball hitting the boundary boards long before Milne had completed his follow through. It was exhilarating stuff.
Sadly, none of his top-order colleagues hung around in support, and by the time Dhoni arrived, all fire and brimstone, the task was getting out of hand. Kohli and Dhoni held out some hope but the captain’s dismissal, followed not long after by his deputy’s, shut the door on a chase that promised much at various stages but fizzled out towards the end.
Until Anderson exploded in a flurry of sixes, India’s bowlers had more than held their own on a glorious, wind-free afternoon. There was discipline and intent through Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, while R Ashwin too was accurate even if not overly threatening. Ravindra Jadeja was tidy for eight overs before being tonked for 20 in his last; indeed, barring Ishant Sharma, who served up juicy full tosses or rank short deliveries before redeeming himself somewhat at the death, the rest had every reason to reflect on a job well done on a very good batting strip, even if they were sent on a hiding to nothing by Anderson and Luke Ronchi.
Anderson is a powerful package, all brawn but also extremely quick between the wickets. Blessed with excellent timing and tremendous ball-striking skills, he reiterated that his 36-ball hundred against West Indies last month, the fastest in ODI history, was no flash in the pan. There were booming drives down the ground, but the one shot he played with total authority and supreme impunity was the pull off front foot and back. Anderson deposited both Ishant, whose 17-run 40th over triggered the cascade, and Shami on to the roof over midwicket; McLean Park’s square boundaries are short, yes, but these were strokes that would have cleared the ropes comfortably anywhere in the world.
Anderson raced to 50 off 30 deliveries but while he had the crowd eating out of his hands, Ronchi almost unobtrusively piled on the misery at the other end to ensure that the platform laid by Williamson and Taylor did not go to waste. Anderson and Ronchi were both aggressive and cheeky during their stand of 66 off just 37 deliveries, rapidly translating a potentially good total into a very intimidating one.
Shami is fast making a name for himself on the global stage, and he did his growing reputation no harm at all by winkling out Ryder and Martin Guptill in his first spell. Ryder, looking to impose himself, paid the penalty for playing around his pads and lost off stump while Guptill, completely at sea during his brief stint, was put out of his misery when Ashwin snaffled a sharp chance at first slip, high to his right.
In some trouble at 32 for 2 in the eighth over, Williamson and Taylor had to rebuild with care. Neither batsman was allowed to play too many horizontal bat strokes and both were forced to look for other avenues of scoring during their stand of 121. Williamson used his feet brilliantly to Ashwin and Jadeja on his way to 71 while Taylor was content to work the gaps during a half-century that contained just one boundary.
Just when they were primed to push on, Jadeja found success when Williamson picked out cover. Shami evicted Taylor early in the Batting Power Play to give Dhoni his 300th ODI dismissal and India great hope of keeping New Zealand down to somewhere in the region of 270, but that was only until Anderson cut loose.
New Zealand amassed 90 in the last ten overs with Anderson and Ronchi the principal protagonists. Even with Kohli in the mood, that helped New Zealand erect a mountain too high for India for scale.