India prevails in thriller, clinches ODI series

In a contest that turned out to be a battle between top orders, India pipped New Zealand in the final over of the match to continue its winning juggernaut and deny the visitor its first One-Day International series victory in India.

Indian team after winning the series in Kanpur on Sunday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

In a contest that turned out to be a battle between top orders, India pipped New Zealand in the final over of the match to continue its winning juggernaut and deny the visitor its first One-Day International series victory in India.

Despite some big hits by the Kiwi middle and lower order to keep the team in the hunt, death-overs specialists Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar ensured they had enough expertise to brush aside the occasional scarring and survive the scare. The six-run win gave India the series 2-1.

The contest looked more favourable to the home side with five overs remaining, as New Zealand required 50 more. But Bumrah bowled a costly over, giving away 15 runs courtesy a four and a six from the final two deliveries via a couple of cheeky strokes – an aggressive sweep and a scoop. Bhuvneshwar bowled accurately and full to allow the batsmen only five runs in the 47th over, and more importantly, he boosted India’s morale by dismissing Henry Nicholls 37 (24b 5x4 1x6) via a superbyorker aimed at leg stump.

Scoreboard and ball-by-ball details

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Tom Latham, who batted resolutely until then, had to be frantic in the company of the new batsman Colin de Grandhomme. But they failed to get the required boundaries. Bumrah made amends for his slip-up in the previous over, and accounted for the run-out of Latham 65 (52b, 7X4), giving away just five runs in a yorker filled over.

A six down the ground from Mitchell Santner, the No. 7, off a full toss briefly hushed the crowd, but Bhuvneshwar was hard to get away in the rest of the over, and the 15 required off the final over from Bumrah proved to be too hard for the lower-order duo. With 12 required from three balls, Santner, for a moment, appeared to have hit a six, but when the ball landed in the hands of Shikhar Dhawan at deep midwicket, the match was well and truly beyond the grasp of New Zealand.

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The team’s spirited effort was scripted mainly via helpful contributions from the top and middle order, and in chief, Munro and Williamson. As long as the two were in the middle, their team looked well in the hunt for the target. Munro, the makeshift opener, was adventurous in his innings; his frequent boundaries - including three awe-inspiring sixes – had led to a rapid start to the chase. Guptill, his opening partner, was dismissed cheaply, smashing Bumrah to Dinesh Karthik at long-off, but this didn’t lead to much respite for India.

The start had led to the introduction of spin early. To take the pace off the ball, even Kedar Jadhav chipped in. Munro and Williamson were enterprising but also assured and confident. Munro appeared to be the aggressor, but Williamson almost took the attention away from himself with his calm strokeplay – his innings included eight serene boundaries.

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Yuzvendra Chahal’s intervention disallowed New Zealand’s inertia to get out of hand for the host. Just when it looked the contest may be slipping away, with Munro looking unstoppable, Chahal deceived him to have him bowled off a loopy, flighted delivery that snuck between his legs during his attempt to play a stroke. It ended a partnership of 109 between Munro and Williamson, in the 25th over. Three overs later, Williamson, who looked confident in his stroke-filled yet far-from-cavalier half-century, also fell to Chahal. He attempted to repeat the slog sweep he had executed serenely earlier in his knock; the ball wasn’t in his arc this time, and it spun sharply to catch his outside edge and fall to M. S. Dhoni.

The experienced Ross Taylor and his big ally in the first ODI – Tom Latham – joined hands once again to ensure a steady partnership with an eye on the target. They churned the runs without much ado, but Taylor’s soft dismissal at a crucial juncture – the 41st over – was a big blow to his side’s chances. 91 were required off the last 10 overs, and the set duo could have expertly accelerated towards the business end. But Taylor was deceived by a slow ball from Bumrah, and was caught by gully off an outside edge.

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The host scented the turning of tables. Hardik Pandya revved up the crowd, standing at deep midwicket, and before long, the stadium was lit up by mobile-phone torch lights. Undeterred, Latham and fellow left-hander Nicholls didn’t throw in the towel, managing to take the contest deep.

India may not have had to breathe so heavy for so long, though, if it had played a different second spinner. Axar Patel, who replaced local boy Kuldeep Yadav, perhaps due to the team management’s idea of preventing two wrist spinners in the attack, lacked bite in his spell.

It may also have had it easier if it had scored more runs. Its final score looked a bit underwhelming in light of the second-wicket show put on by the dazzling Rohit Sharma 147 (138 b, 18X4, 2X6) and Virat Kohli 113 (106b, 9X4, 1X6).

It was a batting exhibition. When Rohit and Kohli breezed through most of the innings – it looked like a beautiful duet in the middle – all was well with India. A brief period of stutter threatened to derail its path before frantic run-making in the end.

In what was a flat, true wicket ideal for a batting feast, the openers set to entertain. Shikhar Dhawan’s dismissal, against the run of play, was just an aberration as the mantle was seized appropriately by Rohit and Kohli. The duo featured in a 230-run partnership and scored centuries and laid the foundation for a big total.

However, Rohit was clearly the centre of attention in the middle with his awe-inspiring strokes. From his one-legged pull to delightful sweeps, cuts and drives, he provided lots of colour to the humdrum proceedings of factory-like churning of runs off hapless bowlers. His strokes were executed with minimalist movement of his body, and lots of poise and disdain. His dismissal in the 42nd over brought onlookers back to reality and it marked the only jittery phase of the innings.

Pandya, who came in at No. 3, perished in the search of his trademark six down the ground, and before long, the set Kohli, too, got out. It seemed India may struggle to accelerate towards an ideal finish but M. S. Dhoni heaved a few boundaries towards the end in the company of Kedar Jadhav to take India towards an overall run-rate approaching seven per over. It proved just enough.