New Delhi: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson made a surprising decision to bat first after winning the toss but his bowlers proved him right as they stepped up in a must win contest in Ranchi to help beat India by 19 runs and draw level at 2-2. Chasing 261, India were bowled out for 241 in 48.4 overs leaving the fifth and final ODI in Vizag to decide the fate of the series.
Wickets in the middle overs heavily dented India’s chances where they kept losing batsmen at crucial junctures. After Rohit Sharma fell early for 11, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli joined forces to steer the chase. The duo had settled well with Rahane looking in a good nick. He larruped Trent Boult for a four and a six in an over and then struck two more fours off Tim Southee in three deliveries later on. Kohli was his usual solid self and inching towards yet another fifty after two fours and a six when he fell to an ordinary delivery from Ish Sodhi, caught by the keeper while attempting a cut at 45. That partnership was worth 78 runs.
His departure was followed by a roaring welcome from the crowd to local boy MS Dhoni who was fresh after a match winning knock in the third ODI. But it was Rahane who was making all the right noises, hitting a timely half-century, punishing a poor short delivery from left arm spinner Anton Devcich for a four to reach the milestone.
At 126/2 in 23 overs, with a well set Rahane and Dhoni in the middle, India must have fancied their chances of closing out the series in Ranchi. James Neesham had other plans.
He failed to get going with the bat but more than made up for it with two deadly strikes from which India failed to recover. His first victim was Rahane, trapped in front for 57 in the 28th over. His next left the crowd stunned as he let one slip through the gates of Dhoni, cleaning him up for 11 and suddenly India were in a spot of bother at 135/4.
The spot of bother gave way to full blown crisis when Southee picked two in two to leave India gasping. His first wicket was largely due to an excellent fielding effort from Tom Latham who timed his leap to perfection, pulling off a brilliant catch to dismiss Manish Pandey for 11. Next man Kedar Jadhav was late in bringing his bat as a slower one crashed flush on his pad to have him out lbw first-ball for a duck. By the end of 35 overs, India needed 100 more to win with four wickets remaining.
The chase wasn’t a foregone conclusion with two allrounders Axar Patel and Hardik Pandya in the middle but likewise their counterparts, the New Zealand bowlers kept things tight. With the asking rate rising continuously, Pandya was forced to play risky shots and the result was another well judged catch to Latham. Axar fought, delighting the crowd which had already started deserting the stands, with a straight six off Neesham and his partnership with Amit Mishra kept things interesting a terrible mix-up sent Mishra packing. Axar eventually fell for 38 – his highest score in ODIs and though Dhawal Kulkarni kept the flickering Indian hopes alive with an unbeaten 25, it wasn’t enough.
That New Zealand were able to post 260 was largely due to a half-century from Martin Guptill as late strikes restricted their charge. Needing a win to keep the series alive, New Zealand began on the front foot winning the toss for the first time on the tour. And a strong opening stand set the ball rolling before the bowlers applied the squeeze in the middle overs.
A little edgy Guptill and sublime Tom Latham began the proceedings on a solid footing. Guptill was his usual self – edgy but aggressive and Latham relying on pure timing. The combination worked pretty well for the visitors, they collected 80 runs from the first 10 overs.
Guptill, given yet another opportunity to make amends, had a lucky day as he survived two dropped catches to score 72 from 84 deliveries. His 12 boundaries – some exceptional strokes and a few streaky ones helped him shrug off the poor form that saw him scoring a combined 39 runs from the first three ODIs of the series. Together with Latham, he didn’t allow the new ball pair of Umesh Yadav and Dhawal Kulkarni to settle in. Kulkarni was expensive in his first spell, leaking 37 runs from his four overs. While Guptill went after the bowlers, Latham refrained from being flashy, playing the ball on the merit.
But the introduction of spinners halted the scoring rate. Between over no 11 and 15, Axar and Amit Mishra only allowed 14 runs between them and the pressure got to Latham. He attempted a sweep that resulted in a leading edge to short fine-leg, cutting short his promising knock at 39. Guptill meanwhile completed his 31st ODI fifty and together with captain Williamson, steered the innings forward. It was Hardik Pandya who made the breakthrough in his second spell, inducing an edge off Guptill.
Williamson and Ross Taylor then took control and added 46 runs at a steady pace.
With New Zealand 184/2 in 35 overs, they looked well set for a late surge. It was then that Mishra weaved his magic to remove Williamson (41) and James Neesham (6) within three overs. Those two strikes from Mishra (2/41) revived India as they refused to give New Zealand any opening. Together, Axar (1/38), Mishra and Kedar Jadhav (0/27) gave 106 runs in 28 overs.
The responsibility fell on Taylor’s shoulders who had BJ Watling, playing his first ODI since February 2013, for company. Kulkarni returned for a second spell and had Watling caught at fine leg by Rohit Sharma for 14. Then Taylor was run-out, thanks to a brilliant work from Dhoni who back flipped a throw from Kulkarni from the deep, with his back to the stumps. The ball crashed on the stumps well before Taylor, who had labored to 35 off 58 deliveries, could make his ground.
Such was India’s stranglehold over the batsmen that they only allowed three fours in the final 10 overs as New Zealand finished with a below par total but that as it turned out, was enough.
Brief Scores: India 241 (Ajinkya Rahane 57, Virat Kohli 45; Tim Southee 3/40) lost to New Zealand 260/7 (Martin Guptill 72, Tom Latham 39; Amit Mishra 2/41) by 19 runs