One-sided contest

After Virender Sehwag, M. S. Dhoni, and Suresh Raina took India to an imposing total in 38 overs, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar bowled a superb first spell under lights, testing New Zealand’s explosive openers and dismissing them. They were crippling blows, for Brendon McCullum had played a key role in the Twenty20 victories, and the Kiwis turned meek after his exit. By S. Ram Mahesh.

Napier completed two switches of weather before the first ODI, going from cold and wet to hot and dry before reverting to cold and wet. In terms of dramatic turns, this was all the first ODI had.

What might have been an intriguing batting contest turned one-sided rather quickly, as Virender Sehwag, M. S. Dhoni, and Suresh Raina took India to an imposing total in 38 overs. Sehwag was typically destructive on an old stomping ground. The wicket w as ripe for batting, allowing as it did for the ball to come on, and Sehwag set a blistering pace. He was involved in a tangle with seamer Ian O’Brien when attempting a short single, and O’Brien pretty much cooked New Zealand’s goose when he ill-advisedly tried to throw the stumps after Sehwag had tripped and fallen.

One flat cut nearly beheaded a security guard, and it seemed a travesty that Sehwag should miss a century. He was undone, however, by a spectacular bit of catching from Ross Taylor, who flung himself to intercept the firm drive. Dhoni struggled to get going, and with Yuvraj poking about without profit, New Zealand appeared as if it might find a way back into the game. It was at about this time that the cricketers heard of the attack on the Sri Lankan convoy in Pakistan.

Yuvraj was run out by another splendid bit of fielding, this time by Martin Guptill from the deep mid-wicket, and India was in danger of losing its way.

Fortunately, Suresh Raina played one of the most sure-footed innings you’d hope to see. He had a tough decision to make as he walked out to join his captain, who was struggling to attain a strike-rate of 70 runs per 100 balls. Should he get his eye in or counter-attack and seize momentum? That he did the latter speaks volumes about how well assuredly he played.

The 22-year-old left-hander square drove to great effect, but it was his swiping over deep mid-wicket, massive sixes that went rows back that thrilled the 5000-strong crowd. It served a more practical purpose, wresting the initiative back. No wonder that both Dhoni and Daniel Vettori gushed about the quality of the innings and its contextual significance.

Dhoni himself hung in, allowing his more forceful partners (Sehwag, Raina, and later Yusuf Pathan) to supply the flash and dash, while he settled. It was a workman’s innings, and it helped India in the broader context.

Describing his innings, Dhoni said, “I capitalised on the start given by Sachin (Tendulkar) and Viru (Sehwag). Viru was the leader when it came to partnerships, he scored at ample pace, giving me time to play extra deliveries and get used to the conditions. (Suresh) Raina was brilliant. He came at a time that was tricky for him — (he had to decide) whether to look for the big shots or get himself in. It was evenly poised at that time. He went by instinct and targeted the bowlers. That’s good.”

New Zealand’s bowling was woeful. “I was really disappointed,” said Vettori. “They didn’t get it in the right areas. We had to inch-perfect anyway on such a good track, and we were just poor. What’s disappointing is that it was a lot of our top performers that didn’t step up. I can live with balls bowled in the right areas going for sixes, but we didn’t do that.”

Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar bowled a superb first spell under lights, testing New Zealand’s explosive openers and dismissing them. They were crippling blows, for Brendon McCullum had played a key role in the Twenty20 victories, and New Zealand turned meek after his exit. Praveen, in particular, was magnificent swinging it both ways, and letting the freshened track do the rest in terms of deviation off the seam. Guptill resisted with an attractive half-century, again serving notice of his talent, but the rain interruption compounded the difficulty of the target, and Jacob Oram’s dismissal immediately after resumption settled the contest.

Harbhajan Singh was like a malicious cat among pigeons. His doosras went past unread like self-obsessed diary entries, and he helped himself to three wickets in four balls.

By then the match had ceased being a contest, but it accentuated India’s superiority. Thus did India record its first victory of the tour.

The Scores

First ODI, Napier, March 3. India won by 53 runs (D/L method).

India: V. Sehwag c Taylor b Vettori 77; S. Tendulkar c McCullum b Butler 20; M. Dhoni (not out) 84; Yuvraj Singh (run out) 2; S. Raina c O’Brien b Elliott 66; Y. Pathan (not out) 20; Extras (b-1, lb-1, nb-2) 4. Total (for four wkts., in 38 overs) 273.

Fall of wickets: 1-69, 2-121, 3-131, 4-241.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 7-0-69-0; O’Brien 8-1-52-0; Butler 8-1-42-1; Oram 2-0-19-0; Vettori 8-0-42-1; Ryder 3-0-27-0; Elliott 2-0-20-1.

New Zealand: J. Ryder c Sehwag b P. Kumar 11; B. McCullum c Harbhajan b P. Kumar 0; M. Guptill c Gambhir b Harbhajan 64; L. Taylor c Tendulkar b Y. Pathan 31; G. Elliott (run out) 11; J. Oram c Dhoni b Yuvraj 0; N. Broom st. Dhoni b Harbhajan 2; I. Butler c Munaf b Zaheer 0; K. Mills c Sehwag b Harbhajan 0; D. Vettori (not out) 26; I. O’Brien (not out) 3; Extras (lb-10, w-3, nb-1) 14. Total (for nine wkts., in 28 overs) 162.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-23, 3-81, 4-111, 5-111, 6-132, 7-132, 8-132, 9-132.

India bowling: Zaheer 6-1-19-1; P. Kumar 6-1-28-2; Munaf 2-0-14-0; Yuvraj 6-0-42-1; Y. Pathan 4-0-22-1; Harbhajan 4-0-27-3.