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Jadeja snatches tie to keep India alive

Partnership of 85 with Ashwin offsets Guptill's fifth ODI century
These are the kind of days a professional sportsperson dreams of. The kind of day when nothing can go wrong, when you can come up with an inspired catch or two to follow up a hundred, when you can follow a magical spell of bowling with a half-century. Martin Guptill had one of those days at Eden Park on Saturday (January 25); so did R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
And so did unfurl an absolute nail-biter, a fascinating advertisement for One-Day International cricket where after 100 frenetic overs, there was nothing to separate the teams. New Zealand was bowled out for 314, India finished on 314 for 9; the third ODI ended in a tie and even though New Zealand still leads the series 2-0, India hasn’t lost it yet. 

There were 18 runs needed for India's victory off the final over, sent down by Corey Anderson, with Jadeja on strike. There were two fours, two wides, a six off the penultimate delivery. Two were required off the last ball but Jadeja managed only one. A famous tie perhaps the most appropriate result after seven hours of gut-wrenching action.

Strangely subdued over the first two matches, the New Zealand opener Guptill made a telling statement with his fifth century. It was on the back of his sparkling 111 and a stand of 153 with Kane Williamson - a New Zealand record for the second wicket against India - that the home side built up its intimidating tally.

For the first time in three games, New Zealand was put under pressure by Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. India’s openers put on 64 in just 56 balls to get the chase off to the perfect start when Guptill screamed in from deep backward square leg, flung himself forward and conjured a sensational catch to not just get rid of Dhawan, but trigger an Indian slide.

If India recovered from 79 for 4 to make a match of it, it was because of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and mainly due to Ashwin and Jadeja, who put on a breathtaking partnership that all but knocked the stuffing out of New Zealand. Ashwin, promoted to No. 7, was joined by Jadeja with India needing 131 from 88. Ashwin batted quite extraordinarily, producing the innings of the evening as he cruised to a maiden half-century, putting on 85 of the very best in only 53 deliveries for the seventh wicket with Jadeja.

New Zealand was clearly rattled. The usually impeccable ground fielding floundered, Jadeja was dropped and then Ashwin escaped a stumping off successive deliveries. Panic levels were rising when up stepped Guptill to calm the nerves. As Ashwin lashed out at Nathan McCullum, Guptill took the catch at deep midwicket. Aware that he was about to step out of bounds, he lobbed the ball up in the air, coolly got back into the field of play and gobbled up the catch a second time. As easy as that.

Jadeja wasn’t giving up. He kept at it single-handedly even as his partners deserted him, taking India to the line. Not over it, though, but there can be no cause for regret or disappointment.

There were 29,612 fans at Eden Park, a majority of them unashamedly rooting for the visiting side, and they were treated to a wonderful display of shot-making by a wide range of batsmen, but no one entertained them more than Ashwin, who batted with stunning orthodoxy and tremendous flair. There were drives on the up, pulls played with authority as he got on top of the bounce, delicate dabs to third man and an outrageous reverse sweep that took him to his maiden ODI half-century.

At the start, Rohit shed his diffidence of the first two games, capitalising on being let off by Jesse Ryder when yet to open his account to smash four sixes. Dhawan too played his strokes without inhibition as India made a strong reply. A change of ball following the serious pounding it received, and the introduction of Corey Anderson in the tenth over turned the chase on its head. From 64 without loss, India collapsed to 79 for 4, losing 4 for 15 – including the prized scalp of Virat Kohli, undone by Hamish Bennett -- in 51 deliveries.

Rohit pulled out memorable drives over the straight field off Mitchell McClenaghan and Bennett, and one fabulous pull that screamed flat over deep square leg; at the other end, Dhawan too employed the pull to good effect, then unfurled the cover drive which generally is the best indication that he is on song. But having got themselves in, both men perished to poor strokes.

Kohli looked a little ill at ease right through his brief stay, playing two maidens on the trot against Bennett, who has an awkward action but generated excellent pace and got the ball to fizz off the surface. Of 15 balls to Kohli, there were 14 dots and a single; the 16th rushed through and held its line, and Kohli’s ambitious drive landed in Luke Ronchi’s gloves off the outside edge.

By then, Anderson had forced Rohit to lash out and edge to third man, less than 50 metres from the bat, and when he strangled Ajinkya Rahane down leg during a first spell of 6-1-22-3, the contest looked as good as over.

As is his wont, Dhoni didn’t give up. Between beefy lashes that scattered the crowd, there was intelligent placement and hectic running with Suresh Raina, who came through a fitness test and played a cameo, but no more. Dhoni was brilliantly caught on the square-leg fence by Tim Southee off – yes – Anderson in the first over of the Batting Power Play.

India must have been contemplating a hiding to nothing in the afternoon when Guptill crashed the first ball of the game off Bhuvneshwar Kumar through the covers, and Ryder continued to target Mohammed Shami, who had a poor day in office. Shami bowled too short at the start, and struggled to land the ball at the death, going for 84 in his 10 overs. Comeback man Varun Aaron, in his first ODI for 25 months, also faded away after initial promise, and had it not been for the guile of the two spinners and the control shown by Bhuvaneshwar, India would have been chasing many more.

New Zealand’s was a strange innings. When Guptill, who switched gears effectively after having plodded to 35 off 62, and Williamson were in the middle, it was in supreme control, looking good for 330 if not more. Neither man was unafraid to take the aerial route, with Guptill particularly severe on first Aaron and then Shami.

India kept plugging away and found a lifeline when Williamson backed away to Shami and was bowled. Anderson, armed with the license to tee off, was defeated by a quicker one from Ashwin that hurried off the pitch to hit top of leg, and Brendon McCullum fell for his second successive duck. 189 for 1 had become 230 for 5 but instead of consolidating, Luke Ronchi counter-attacked, mixing orthodoxy with cheekiness to rattle along to 38 off just 20.

A second flash point occurred when New Zealand slipped to 280 for 8 with six overs to go. For a while, the scoreboard came to a standstill; 23 deliveries brought just 9 when Bhuveshwar, somehow, tipped a straightforward catch at long-leg over the ropes to put Southee in business. Southee hammered three sixes and a four in the last 13 deliveries of the innings to push the total beyond 300.

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