Blitzkrieg at Christchurch

The third ODI became a batting contest. It wasn’t surprising because the AMI Stadium is outrageously small, the boundary on one side a mere 54 metres. Yuvraj Singh put on a marvellous display of hitting as well, more than complementing Tendulkar’s 163 with a menacing 87. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

“Better late then never,” said Sachin Tendulkar, smiling, after he made his first ODI hundred in New Zealand — and what a hundred it was! “I was really hitting the ball very well,” the great man said.

“Even in the last match I was happy with how I hit a few strokes. It’s very pleasing to make runs in a win.”

The third ODI became a batting contest. It wasn’t surprising because the AMI Stadium is outrageously small, the boundary on one side a mere 54 metres. Yuvraj Singh put on a marvellous display of hitting as well, more than complementing Tendulkar’s 163 with a menacing 87. With M.S. Dhoni managing an unbeaten half-century it’s no wonder New Zealand’s bowlers weren’t sure where to turn.

“Yeah I got the feeling that at times they weren’t sure what to do,” conceded Brendon McCullum, who stood in as captain for Daniel Vettori after the left-arm spinner left the squad to be with his wife, who’s expecting the couple’s first child. “But then even when they got it in the right areas they were up against probably the greatest batsman of all time. And this being a small ground, it’s not easy.”

Strange as it may seem, batting wasn’t easy early in the piece. The ball didn’t come on, and Tendulkar had to explore the region behind square on the leg-side using the pace of the ball. He took deliveries off his stumps and turned them to leg, even paddle-and slog sweeping the seamers.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir struggled with the deceptive nature of the surface. An ill-fated heave across the line and a fatal tickle to the wicketkeeper, respectively, accounted for them. Yuvraj began with a fluent cover drive, and found his groove. Tendulkar and Yuvraj forced the batting power play on New Zealand and realised the following runs per over: 13; 13; 12; 17; 14.

“The thinking was to make them bowl their spinner later,” revealed Tendulkar. “I think we caught their seamers off guard. We’ve got five or six batsmen who can clear the boundary at will. So in a block of five overs, they can make 50, and no score is beyond us.”

The crispness of Yuvraj’s ball striking was astonishing in the context of the struggles of the batsmen before him. Tendulkar, who had batted in cruise mode when Yuvraj was blazing away, upped the ante.

Wicketkeeper Peter McGlashan, who had done well to hold Yuvraj’s inside-edged catch, then missed stumping Dhoni — it cost New Zealand dear, as Tendulkar and Dhoni punished New Zealand’s bowlers. Tendulkar eventually left the field of his own volition after straining an abdominal muscle.

Suresh Raina joined in the fun, as a record 18 sixes were hit in India’s innings. New Zealand didn’t slack in its chase either. Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum are explosive batsmen, and helped by Indian fielding (and wicketkeeping) that was butter-fingered and heavy-footed all at once, the pair of openers hurt India.

Ryder took heavy toll of the Indian bowlers, short-arm jabbing them to mid-wicket and slapping them through cover. McCullum, who didn’t manage a smile since winning the toss, expelled his frustrations while batting. They went at nearly eight an over, scaring India.

“I thought Ryder batted brilliantly,” said McCullum. “It was the sort of innings that usually win matches, but chasing 393, everything has to go just right, and that didn’t happen.” Ironically, India’s hitherto ham-handed fielding came to its rescue.

Ryder’s judgment of a single failed his opening partner, and Ross Taylor dawdled outside his crease during an appeal while Yuvraj was alive to the possibility of a run out.

Martin Guptill was then a touch unfortunate to be adjudged leg-before. Ryder chipped Harbhajan to long-off, and it appeared as if India was home.

But Kyle Mills and Tim Southee (who had earlier become the second-most expensive one-day bowler) sparked a rousing fight-back. India appeared to fray — Munaf Patel was removed for bowling two beamers over the batsman’s waistline (the first was marginal), and frantic words were exchanged. India eventually held its nerve for an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.

“At times we weren’t sure if 392 would be enough!” said Tendulkar. “But I thought we came back really well after Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder looked in complete control.”

In all, 31 sixes were hit — a record in One-Day International cricket.

The Scores

Third ODI, Christchurch, March 8. India won by 58 runs.

India: V. Sehwag b Mills 3; S. Tendulkar (retd. hurt) 163; G. Gambhir c McGlashan b Butler 15; Yuvraj Singh c McGlashan b Elliott 87; M. Dhoni c McGlashan b Mills 68; S. Raina (not out) 38; Y. Pathan (not out) 1; Extras (lb-5, w-8, nb-4) 17. Total (for four wkts., in 50 overs) 392.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-65, 3-203, 3-338* (Tendulkar, retd. not out), 4-382.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-0-58-2; Southee 10-0-105-0; Butler 5-0-37-1; Oram 8-1-34-0; Patel 5-0-37-0; Ryder 5-0-56-0; Elliott 7-0-60-1.

New Zealand: J. Ryder c Zaheer b Harbhajan 105; B. McCullum (run out) 71; L. Taylor (run out) 7; M. Guptill lbw b Yuvraj 1; G. Elliott b Zaheer 18; J. Oram b Harbhajan 7; P. McGlashan b Zaheer 7; I. Butler b Yuvraj 24; K. Mills c Zaheer b Y. Pathan 54; T. Southee c & b P. Kumar 32; J. Patel (not out) 0; Extras (lb-2, w-4, nb-2) 8. Total (in 45.1 overs) 334.

Fall of wickets: 1-166, 2-179, 3-182, 4-188, 5-203, 6-217, 7-218, 8-251, 9-334.

India bowling: Zaheer 9-0-65-2; P. Kumar 8.1-0-60-1; M. Patel 7.2-0-79-0; Yuvraj 10-0-71-2; Harbhajan 10-0-56-2; Y. Pathan 0.4-0-1-1.