Sachin Tendulkar was resplendent. His colourful innings came appropriately on the day of the festival of colours. His talent for free flowing aggression, somewhat underemployed in the world of one-day cricket till today when his promotion as opener was a tactical move thrust upon the side, found a perfect medium on a warm afternoon at the Eden Park.
The Sunday was as close to an Indian summer's day New Zealand is likely to see in this part of the year and the home side's attack was made to wither much like autumn leaves before the breezy onslaught of Tendulkar. His promotion was an idea born not so much out of necessity as from the need to be inventive in limited-overs cricket. And he more than justified his own optimism in volunteering to open the innings though he stumbled while on the perfect course to the fastest century in one-day internationals.
The team was ready to walk into a tactical blunder in choosing to bat first if Azhar won the toss. Quite ironically, it was Rutherford who committed that mistake when taking first strike on a soft and dampish pitch which had considerable life and movement in the first two hours. His recent experience at the Eden Park may have pushed the Kiwi skipper into such a course, because his side had not managed to chase moderate totals against Pakistanis twice this summer.
The Indians may have been twice blessed in this match which they have won to level the series score at 1-1. The loss of the toss was a blessing in disguise, the elevation of Tendulkar for the first time after the gremlin of an idea had been planted in the team management was a real blessing. The suggestion had first been dismissed by the cricket manager who dubbed one-day cricket a lottery and the counter argument was 'if it is, why don't you buy a ticket to good fortune.'
The tactical switch to direct aggression at the top may have failed on occasions. But the valid cricketing point was the splendour of Tendulkar's flair and faculty was being cramped by his batting-place at three drop in one-day internationals. Given the scope to build an innings, he can tame any attack as he once did against Derbyshire on the tour of England in 1990. And, he played to an inspired tempo many dream of, but few really achieve in a game which is all about constraining negativism with the ball and how to tackle it with the bat.
Tendulkar's regal dismissal of the new ball attack of Morrison and Pringle made the match a no-contest. He whipped Morrison off his legs and drove him into the straight field with relish while preserving the very best for Pringle's slow medium seamers. And when in anger the pacers bounced, Tendulkar hooked towards the shorter fine leg-long leg boundary to gather his runs at an amazing pace. There were seven boundaries off Pringle and five off Morrison who obviously could not get the ball to reverse-swing because it was not old enough before the match ended when the Indians had faced less than half the allotted overs. Maybe, it was rough enough given the power of Tendulkar's bludgeoning blows and his smooth driving, but the home side was in no mood to test the theory today though Morrison came back for a second spell only to take further punishment.
The couple of blows off Gavin Larsen which sailed for six (and 3 fours) were sufficient for the vice-captain to withdraw from the attack in a hurry. And New Zealand had few options left in the bowling save for Mathew Hart who coaxed a strange return catch out of Tendulkar when the batsman, beaten in the air, tried to change his shot and ended up spooning the ball back off the leading edge.
The scorecard itself is very revealing of how Tendulkar (49 balls, 15x4, 2x6) approached this innings. He raced to 50 in 13 scoring strokes (2 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 6 4 4) and then carried on with the amazing sequence of 6 4 4 4 4 before easing off to a final and astonishingly slow pattern of 2 4 2 1. By then of course the plot between schoolmates was to give Tendulkar the chance to get to a hundred within the runs remaining to meet the target.
Such an enterprising innings tended to place everything else that went before it in the pale. Chris Harris had held the badly sagging New Zealand innings together to give it the modest respectability of 142 after the Indian seamers, led by a charged up Kapil Dev, had the home side in a hole. Jadeja was equally positive at the start. He began getting at the pacers just before Tendulkar realised he was timing the ball so well he could do as he wished today.
That Jadeja holed out low to mid off may at most have delayed the verdict which was clear in the opening stand of 61 off 56 balls itself. Kambli was a happy spectator to the stand of 56 off 37 balls of which his younger partner's share was 40, Kambli himself was well taken by Hart at long on but by then the match was near enough to a finish as to rob the Kiwis of the enthusiasm they display of the fall of a wicket.
The blitzkrieg of Tendulkar was so awesome in its thinking and execution that the Kiwis, Rutherford leading the way, stood together to applaud the batsman as he was leaving. And Azharuddin too applauded him on his way in. The match adjudicator may have made his choice for 'man of the match' within the blinking of an eyelid. Even for one so young and talented, such a brilliant display comes somewhat late, as late as his 70th match in which he threatened his skipper's world record century off 62 balls in Baroda against the same opponent in 1988-89. Still, the oldest and most experienced had set the tone for the day on which India changed the trend.
The two oldest members of the side set the highest standards. First, there was Kapil Dev, taking the benchmark to 250 wickets in one-day internationals responding body and soul to a quickish seaming pitch with bounce that he may not have come across for a couple of years. Second, there was Azharuddin catching impeccably to make his point about how much this game can swing on fielding alone.
Finally, India may have allowed the noose to slip a bit in the end overs when Azhar, on seeing Pringle and Harris in the same crease, lobbed to the bowler's end believing Chauhan would get back to await his throw on top of the stumps. They lost a bit in the slog, maybe 20 runs, because the spinners were kept on till almost the end while leaving two overs of Srinath's quota unutilised.
When India had the grip it was vice-like, the seamers enjoying every minute of the sunny morning because the ball did so much. Completely at sea in these conditions, the New Zealand batting, so clearly in command in the first game, was undone by the accuracy and the movement. While Azhar had a hand in the first two dismissals, picking the cut of Hartland and the edged drive of Rutherford with a smart dive at short point, it was the cleverness of Kapil bowling at Fleming which was the high point.
The senior allrounder could get a ball to keep a straight course to fox the lefthander who was looking for the inward movement and entice the edge to Mongia who was on his way to equalling the five dismissals by an Indian keeper - Kiran More against New Zealand in Sharjah in 1988. Ten overs for 18 runs represented economy and the two wickets were a tribute more to his astuteness than pace.
Such was the control India had established early that there was to be no true recovery except in Harris deciding to bat through as if in a Test match. He kept the innings together with Adam Parore for company, getting his early runs somewhat nervously, edging boundaries on the shortest route to the fence, and holding back his striking prowess to the end when he drove with elan in an innings (71 balls, 3x4, 1x6) which saved New Zealand's face after the depths had been plumbed in 34 for five.
A direct hit by Tendulkar from short midwicket, ended the retrieving stand which the spinners; could check but not end on a surface always more, likely to assist seamers than spin bowlers. Yet, Chauhan, who was picked to play this game in place of Ankola (who himself replaced Sidhu when the opener woke with a stiff neck), bowled tidily, teasing the batsmen into indiscretion in the slog and setting up two stumpings for Mongia.
The alert display of the wicketkeeper was also a factor in the improved fielding display from the Indians. Apart from equalling the Indian record of his Baroda teammate, Mongia was the motivator who kept the seamers rolling with his constant encouragement.
It was clear that the morning would belong to the seamers. Ankola, who gained one chance to make up for his fielding lapses in the first match, used it well enough by keeping to a good line around off stump. With the run rate having dropped, the batsmen were bound to take a chance off the third seamer and Ankola had Young and Thomson, aiming extravagant drives, edging into the safe gloves of Mongia. New Zealand had been done in by the halfway point itself.
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