Puzzling shuffling of the batting order

Job well done... New Zealand’s Ross Taylor (middle) and Brendon McCullum walk back smiling as Indian skipper M. S. Dhoni looks dejected after the Kiwis take an unbeatable lead in the ODI series.-AP Job well done... New Zealand’s Ross Taylor (middle) and Brendon McCullum walk back smiling as Indian skipper M. S. Dhoni looks dejected after the Kiwis take an unbeatable lead in the ODI series.

Given that the series was still alive after the tie in Auckland, India’s tactics in the match were bizarre, writes S. Dinakar.

The message was clear in the silence of the night — New Zealand was a deserving winner. The Kiwis always found men for the occasion; with the bat and the ball.

India performed in fits and starts with the bat. The innings was without rhythm that accompanies a confident team. And the pace bowling was disastrous. Boundaries were gifted away with short and wide deliveries. Even if R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja created some pressure, the pacemen blew it.

“The pacemen did not use their brains,” lamented skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni after the game.

New Zealand, cashing in, raced away to a seven-wicket win in Hamilton’s Seddon Park to grab a winning 3-0 lead in the five-match ANZ series.

Ross Taylor’s ninth ODI century, an unbeaten 112, reflected the Kiwi dominance. The right-hander used the square-cut with devastating results. This also indicated that the Indian bowlers have problems with their length.

The pursuit of 279 was handled superbly by the Kiwis with the solid Kane Williamson and swashbuckling skipper Brendon McCullum donning key roles as well.

Given that the series was still alive after the tie in Auckland, India’s tactics in the match were bizarre. How else could you explain so many changes in the batting line-up. Virat Kohli, who had been controlling the innings at No. 3, walked in as opener. This also meant Shikhar Dhawan — the think-tank was sending out a message to the misfiring opener — was dropped.

The inconsistent Suresh Raina lost his place too. But the man who took his spot — pace-bowling all-rounder Stuart Binny — sent down a single over.

The Indian fielding too was not up to the mark as we can see Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja collide and drop a catch of Brendon McCullum.-AP

It was intriguing why Ajinkya Ranahe, who has opened successfully in the shorter formats, was not sent as one of the openers. “The selectors are not keen on him opening. They feel his role is in the middle order,” said Dhoni.

In the event, Kohli departed early and India was under pressure straightaway. To make matters worse, Rahane who surfaced at one drop, did not last long either.

India’s puzzling shuffling of the batting order in a big game had back-fired. Perhaps, Dhoni’s decision to field was influenced by the fact that the pitch was likely to assist the spinners in the second half of the match.

But then, Indian batsmen had chased rather well to earn a tie at the Eden Park and could have carried that confidence with them had they opted to pursue a score here.

In the event, India, batting first, struggled to pace its innings. Rohit Sharma regained touch in the latter half of his innings to make 79 but could not rotate the strike in the first 10 overs; the first Powerplay.

“We were slow at the start. After that, we were always playing catch up,” admitted Dhoni. The skipper himself made a hard-hitting unbeaten 79 to give India a score with which it at least had an opportunity to put up a fight. The left-handed Jadeja too upped the tempo towards the end to finish with a strokeful 62 not out.

For the Kiwis, Tim Southee’s swing bowling was immaculate. And wily paceman Kyle Mills’ change of pace and angles proved valuable.

The Kiwi chase was dominated by the 130-run association for the third wicket between Williamson (60) and Taylor. The middle-order solidity played a major role in the Kiwi success and Williamson’s sound batting was the hub.

The elegant right-hander came up with his fourth successive half-century of the series, negotiating with Taylor a crucial phase when Ashwin and Jadeja operated.

Take away the challenge of playing the spinners and the threat from the rest of the Indian bowling was non-existent. The pacemen were simply taken apart on the small ground.

In the last phase of the match, McCullum (49 not out) cut loose with big drives over long-on and covers off the hapless seamers. At this level, the failure of the Indian pacemen to send down well-directed yorkers was shocking.

As the Kiwis raced towards the finish line, the Indian fielding wilted. Boundaries were conceded and catches put down. McCullum was not complaining. “We always want to test ourselves against tough opposition. India was No. 1 when the series started and this is a very satisfying series win for us.”

And Taylor, who lives in Hamilton, was delighted with a series-clinching effort. As he revealed, there was a method behind the Kiwi batsmen handling the Indian spinners with greater assurance.

“Earlier, we used to lunge forward. Now we play off the back-foot and play the ball into the gaps,” he said.

For New Zealand, this was a famous series triumph.

THE SCORE

Fourth ODI, Hamilton, January 28, 2014. New Zealand won by seven wickets.

India: R. Sharma c Ronchi b Williamson 79; V. Kohli c Neesham b Southee 2; A. Rahane c Southee b Mills 3; A. Rayudu c Ronchi b Bennett 37; M. Dhoni (not out) 79; R. Ashwin c Bennett b Southee 5; R. Jadeja (not out) 62; Extras (lb-4, w-7) 11; Total (for five wkts., in 50 overs) 278.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-22, 3-101, 4-142, 5-151.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-2-42-1; Southee 10-1-36-2; Bennett 9-0-67-1; Neesham 8-0-59-0; N. McCullum 10-0-44-0; Williamson 3-0-26-1.

New Zealand: M. Guptill lbw b Shami 35; J. Ryder b Aaron 19; K. Williamson (run out) 60; R. Taylor (not out) 112; B. McCullum (not out) 49; Extras (b-1, w-3, nb-1) 5. Total (for three wkts., in 48.1 overs) 280.

Fall of wickets: 1-54, 2-58, 3-188.

India bowling: B. Kumar 10-0-62-0; Shami 8-0-61-1; Aaron 6.1-0-51-1; Jadeja 10-2-33-0; Ashwin 10-0-41-0; Binny 1-0-8-0; Rayudu 3-0-23-0.