Kaif takes control

S. RAM MAHESH

Md. Kaif... magnificent hundred.-V.V. KRISHNAN

THEY pumped fists and slapped gloves. Even the huddle shuddered with more verve than has been the norm in recent times.

The real Team India did stand up. After a year.

Powered by a magnificent unbeaten century from Mohammad Kaif (102, 121b, 11x4), India chased down a stiff 279 to defeat New Zealand by six wickets in the fifth match of the Videocon tri-series at the Harare Sports Club. Fifteen deliveries remained unbowled.

Before the match, Stephen Fleming had said his side would look to win three out of three in the tournament. "We put a lot of importance on this game," the Black Caps skipper said after the loss. "Kaif played a super innings. We asked it of them. He stood up and did it."

With this win, the Men in Blue confirmed their place in the final. In perspective though, New Zealand was without Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori. "The positive was we had 20 overs resting up. To see Dan (Daniel Vettori) and Shane (Bond) in the dressing room," said Fleming, a tactical glint in his eye.

For India, it started at the top. Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly brought back memories. Sehwag, in particular, penetrating an off-side field that was only a smidgeon less populated than Mumbai's trains.

The Indian captain, meanwhile, pulled a couple of drives out of the old `Classics' bag. Andre Adams was hand-picked for nasty treatment. The bald Kiwi bled.

The famous Indian huddle. Stephen Fleming is run out and the Indians celebrate.-AP

But after putting on 66, Ganguly helped a short delivery to fine leg and nine runs later, Jacob Oram cut Sehwag (45, 34b, 6x4) in half. Not before he had softened the Black Caps. Mohammad Kaif leant into his on-drives and swirled his wrists with felicity. He jumped back to shorten the length and let his top hand take over.

With Rahul Dravid dropping anchor at the other end, Kaif was allowed to explore forgotten elements of his batsmanship. Just when it looked like the match had swung India's way, Scott Styris infiltrated Dravid — the third successive time, the technician from Karnataka has lost his bails to incoming deliveries.

The two were in complete control during their 101-run partnership. Styris slammed the brakes and the equation reduced to 90 in 90. Kaif was joined by old ally Yuvraj Singh, who creamed Nathan Astle wide of the sight-screen. And they scampered. Ones emerged out of nothing, twos from one-and-a-halves.

Yuvraj's strange affection for the sweep shot terminated his stay. Fifty-six required from 67. The same stroke had turned the Indian Oil Cup tri-series final in Colombo.

M. S. Dhoni held back, Styris continued and India needed 47 in the last seven overs. In the 45th over, Kaif threaded the off-side and flicked through the on, to reach his second ODI century. "It feels nice," said Kaif. "Maybe I can build on from here. Might be a different kind of player from here."

Dhoni then exercised his shoulders, swinging straight and hard. India had fashioned an important win.

In the morning Stephen Fleming opted to bat on a better batting track, effectively removing India's Super Sub Murali Kartik from the contest.

The Black Caps skipper demonstrated the ease of the wicket with a forward press to Ashish Nehra, wrists angling the bat, shearing the ball to the boundary. "It was a sub-continent kind of wicket," said Fleming. "Not as much bounce as we would like."

Irfan Pathan, after two overs for 10, swapped ends with Nehra, reclaiming the Golf Course End from where he had destroyed Zimbabwe. But it had little effect on Fleming who swung him to just under the dressing room behind long-leg.

Ajit Agarkar, who had levered the switch of ends, bowled with rhythm and hit the high 130s (kmph). He cramped Astle, forcing him to edge to Dhoni — the first wicket falling at 54. Lou Vincent joined his skipper and the reunited record-pair batted as if there were no inner circle.

Scott Styris pulls the ball to the fence during his half-century knock.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Eighty-one came in 15 overs. Power Play 3 was not taken. And then a moment of inspiration from the Indians. Following through, Agarkar bent, turned and whipped in a throw that knocked down the wickets at the non-striker's end; Fleming (47, 53b, 8x4, 1x6) had squeezed it onto his pads, and taken off. He didn't make it.

Ganguly stepped in smartly to enforce Power Play 3. Another sublime moment followed. Yuvraj took to the air like a cormorant after Hamish Marshall cut Nehra and landed with the ball in his left hand. On his knees, the man from Punjab threw the stumps down to run out Vincent (37, 23b, 6x4).

Craig McMillan went to 4000 ODI runs and Scott Styris reached 2000 in a historic Harbhajan over. The duo held the Indians off for nearly 20 overs, preserving their lower-order power hitters with a partnership of 87.

Pathan at short-fine leg put down a McMillan (on 32) paddle sweep off Yadav in the 40th over, spoiling an otherwise fine fielding display. Yadav went for just 34 in his 10. His bowling and the two run-outs made the difference between a 300 chase and a target of 280.

Agarkar returned in the 42nd over to castle McMillan for 40 with only two fours. McCullum was caught off a no ball and promptly punished Agarkar. A dink over the 'keeper, a mow past mid-wicket, and two spears through the covers brought 20 runs in the 46th over.

"We had some good moments but they had more of them," said Fleming. "We are disappointed not disheartened."

The scores

New Zealand: S. Fleming (run out) 47; N. Astle c Dhoni b Agarkar 11; L. Vincent (run out) 37; H. Marshall b Yadav 8; S. Styris c Sehwag b Nehra 56; C. McMillan b Agarkar 40; B. McCullum c Kaif b Nehra 28; J. Oram c Ganguly b Pathan 14; C. Cairns (not out) 6; A. Adams c Agarkar b Pathan 3; K. Mills (not out) 2; Extras (b-1, lb-11, w-13, nb-1) 26. Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs) 278.

Fall of wickets: 1-54, 2-83, 3-103, 4-115, 5-202, 6-244, 7-266, 8-267, 9-271.

India bowling: Nehra 10-0-57-2; Pathan 9-0-60-2; Agarkar 10-1-61-2; Yadav 10-1-34-1; Harbhajan 10-0-46-0; Ganguly 1-0-8-0.

India: V. Sehwag b Oram 45; S. Ganguly c Patel b Mills 19; M. Kaif (not out) 102; R. Dravid b Styris 39; Yuvraj Singh lbw b Patel 22; M. Dhoni (not out) 37; Extras (lb-7, w-6, nb-2) 15. Total (for four wkts. in 47.3 overs) 279.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-75, 3-176, 4-223.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 7-0-35-1; Adams 7.3-0-67-0; Oram 5-1-22-1; Cairns 3-0-17-0; Patel 9-0-60-1; Astle 7-0-34-0; Styris 9-0-37-1.

New Zealand full substitute: J. Patel (C. McMillan, India innings, 0.0 ov).

India full substitute: M. Kartik (unused).