A creditable victory for the Kiwis

THE New Zealand squad is known as a dangerous customer in international cricket. When the entire South Africa was rooting for the home team's victory in the 2003 World Cup, New Zealand sprang a surprise. And here again, at Cuttack, India failed to contain the Kiwis, who recorded a four-wicket victory.

S. SABANAYAKAN

Scott Styris takes a return catch to dismiss V. V. S. Laxman. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

THE New Zealand squad is known as a dangerous customer in international cricket. When the entire South Africa was rooting for the home team's victory in the 2003 World Cup, New Zealand sprang a surprise. And here again, at Cuttack, India failed to contain the Kiwis, who recorded a four-wicket victory.

Set a target of 247 on a pitch that was not good for free stroke making, New Zealand accomplished the task under lights at the Barabati Stadium. New Zealand finished the game reaching 249 for six in 47.3 overs. At one stage the Kiwis were tottering at 67 for four in 15 overs.

Styris' all-round show (three wickets and 68 runs) won him Man of the Match prize at Cuttack. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Two gritty knocks from Craig McMillan, a scourge of Indian bowlers for long, and Man of the Match Scott Styris turned the game around. Their fifth-wicket association fetched the visitors 128 runs. The Indians could not break this stand despite captain Rahul Dravid bringing about a number of bowling chances.

McMillan was cool in his approach, while Styris, having snared three good wickets with his medium-pace bowling, mixed caution with aggression. McMillan remained unbeaten on 82 (92b, 6x4,1x6) as Styris, one of the four leg before victims, produced a gem of a 68-run innings.

The departure of Styris did bring India back into the game though briefly. Mohammed Kaif, at short mid-wicket, made a brilliant run-out to sent the in-form Jacob Oram to the pavilion. But McMillan and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum steered the team home.

Craig McMillan sweeps even as Rahul Dravid watches. McMillan was simply irresistible on that day. The Indian skipper ran out of ideas to contain this flamboyant batsman. — Pic. AFP-

Neither the spin attack of Sairaj Bahutule, left-arm spinner Murali Kartik and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh nor the pace of Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar could make much impact. Dravid even tried Tendulkar and two part-time spinners, Badani and Yuvraj. The Indian team's effort looked haggard against the determined battings of the Kiwis.

India's 246 all out in 50 overs did look good at the break. Even Dravid acknowledged this fact. "It is never easy to judge what could be a match-winning total on this surface though I was quite happy at the break with the total,'' he said during the post match press conference. "The ball came to the bat a lot better in the evening and dew made it difficult for our bowlers to get a good grip.''

On the hind-sight one might tend to say that India fell short by 20 to 25 runs but then India got the right breaks at the right time excepting its failure to break the partnership between McMillan and Styris. Dravid, taking too much load on his shoulders as a frontline batsman, wicketkeeper and the captain, failed to snare Styris on nine (team's score 72 for four) off Harbhajan Singh. This did prove costly in the end.

The morale-boosting triumph should pep up the spirits of the Kiwis. Fleming was indeed a worried man at one stage but got back his colours on his cheek at the end of the play.

Mohammed Kaif sends this one past Daniel Vettori. Kaif made a fine 64 at Cuttack. — PTI PHOTO-

"You usually don't come back in such situations. And India always played better in these conditions,'' he said, rubbing a little salt in India's wound.

When Fleming called it wrong, India decided to make first use of the pitch. With Virendra Sehwag ruling himself out with a right ankle injury, V. V. S. Laxman came out with Sachin Tendulkar to open India's batting. The Little Master's two spanking drives and one glide off the hip to the ropes gave a clear indication of the condition of the pitch. Batting called for a lot of discipline and proper shot selection. When it looked the two had settle down, Tendulkar was adjudged leg before to a ball that probably would have missed the leg stump.

India found in Mohammed Kaif, promoted to No. 3, a saviour. He was unruffled despite losing Laxman early driving back to Styris. Kaif's 64 (108b, 5x4), Dravid's 31 (46b, 2x4) and Hemang Badani's 41 (45b, 4x4) did take India to a fighting score but proved too inadequate for the methodical New Zealand team. Zaheer Khan did wield the willow effectively for a quick 33 (13b, 3x4, 2x6) to boost the Indian total but in the end all proved in vain.

Daryl Tuffey produced a fine four-over second spell to pick up three wickets while Styris accounted for three wickets conceding only 38 runs. Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori grabbed two quick wickets in a space of three balls in his seventh over to touch 99 wickets in one-dayers.

The scores:

India: V. V. S. Laxman c & b Styris 31; Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Mills 14; Md. Kaif b Styris 64; Rahul Dravid c Styris b Vettori 31; Yuvraj Singh c Mills b Vettori 0; Hemang Badani c McCullum b Tuffey 41; Sairaj Bahutule lbw b Styris 11; Ajit Agarkar c McMillan b Tuffey 7; Harbhajan Singh b Tuffey 5; Zaheer Khan (not out) 33; Murali Kartik (not out) 1; Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-2): 8; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs): 246.

Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-77, 3-136, 4-136, 5-169, 6-194, 7-206, 8-207, 9-224.

New Zealand bowling: Tuffey 10-1-31-3, Mills 8-0-51-1, Oram 10-0-68-0, Styris 10-0-38-3, Vettori 10-0-39-2, Harris 2-0-13-0.

New Zealand: Chris Nevin c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 29; Stephen Fleming lbw b Agarkar 24; Chris Harris lbw b Zaheer 0; Lou Vincent lbw b Zaheer 1; Scott Styris lbw b Kartik 68; Craig McMillan (not out) 82; Jocob Oram (run out) 6; Brendon McCullum (not out) 19; Extras (b-1, lb-6, w-12, nb-1): 20; Total (for six wickets in 47.3 overs): 249.

Fall of wickets: 1-39, 2-40, 3-44, 4-67, 5-195, 6-214.

India bowling: Zaheer 9-1-49-2, Agarkar 8-0-41-1, Harbhajan 10-0-41-1, Kartik 10-1-34-1, Tendulkar 3-0-26-0, Bahutule 3-0-24-0, Badani 3.3-0-21-0, Yuvraj 1-0-7-0.