India 324 for 4 (Rohit 87, Dhawan 66, Dhoni 48*) beat New Zealand 234 all out (Bracewell 57, Kuldeep 4-45) by 90 runs
In a league game in Champions Trophy 2017, India couldn’t really capitalise on their score of 178 for 2 in 33 overs and failed to defend the underwhelming 321 they posted. A year and a half later, in an ODI in New Zealand, they reached 179 for 2 in the 31st over, but again failed to convert it into the 350 they looked good for. Just as a measure of how far their bowling has come from there, though, India defended the 324 in Mount Maunganui with consummate ease.
India’s quicks and spinners both drew more out of the pitch than New Zealand’s did, which meant they didn’t need to resort to the funky fields and plans that New Zealand needed to restrict India after a 154-run opening stand at more than a run a ball between Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. By the time New Zealand reached that score in their response, they had lost six wickets. The first five of those fell one each to the new-ball skills of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, one each to the wristspin of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, and one to the deadly combination of Kedar Jadhav’s unfathomable low-arm spin and MS Dhoni’s super-quick hands.
The two first halves couldn’t have been more different. Any hope New Zealand had of taking a wicket fell prey to innovative field placing. Rohit edged the first ball of the match, but the lone slip was well wide of the orthodox position. By the time New Zealand went to the orthodox two slips, the ball had stopped swinging. Rohit and Dhawan kept India around six an over almost on auto-pilot mode. So good is their game and form that the bowlers needed to err only slightly for them to pick the gaps either side of the wicket. Nine of the first 10 overs, and 17 of the 25 that the two batted together, went for at least one boundary.
As is often the case, Rohit faced more balls, ate more dots, but scored more runs and hit more boundaries than Dhawan in the partnership. Dhawan, who showed glimpses of regained form in his half-century in the first ODI, looked flawless. At the halfway mark, both had brought up their half-centuries, and looked ominous. You can never count out a Rohit double if he is still batting at this stage; not least if he is in his 80s. However, once Dhawan edged a short and wide ball from Trent Boult, New Zealand began to claw back in.
With nothing happening for the bowlers and with India’s top three looking incapable of making a mistake, New Zealand refused to just turn up and accept their punishment. They tried different things. Lockie Ferguson went round the wicket to Rohit, who was approaching his hundred, and they attacked Virat Kohli and Ambati Rayudu with six and seven men inside the circle. They were okay with three dots and a four instead of four easy singles.
This was a high-risk plan, but it worked. Ferguson’s angle and changes of pace brought two wickets, Kohli fell to a bouncer from Boult, and the pressure was on Dhoni and the rest of the middle order again. Ferguson kept finding success with his bowling round the wicket. Twenty-five balls went without a boundary. At the start of the 48th over, though, Colin de Grandhomme dropped Dhoni. Dhoni and Jadhav – 48 off 33 and 22 off 10 respectively – gave India a little finishing kick with 35 off the last two overs.
If the memories of that Sri Lanka chase were still fresh, they were exorcised quickly by a good start to the defence by Shami and Bhuvneshwar. Martin Guptill survived thrice – a run out, a dropped catch, an edge falling short – before finally offering third man a catch. The pressure was obvious. The new ball was doing more for India’s bowlers than it did for New Zealand’s. India were bowling with a higher skill. Shami eventually got the wicket of Kane Williamson with a short ball outside off, but he had bowled enough good balls until then to deserve this.
Colin Munro, seen as a bit of a dasher, is one of the batsmen not yet assured of a place in the World Cup squad. Here he tried to settle in for a longer innings, playing more efficient and percentage cricket, but he could keep that up for only so long. In the 15th over, with the run rate still at six an over, Munro tried to switch-hit Chahal and missed.
The final nail was probably driven through when Ross Taylor played Jadhav for the turn, but as he does so often Jadhav only got the ball to drift past the outside edge.Taylor overbalanced, his back foot left the ground for a split second, and it was time enough for Dhoni to stump him. New Zealand were 100 for 4, and India hadn’t yet introduced their big weapon: the left-arm wristspin of Kuldeep.
And then on came Kuldeep, running delightfully through the rest of the New Zealand innings who were trigger happy with their shots. Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls were beaten in the air, de Grandhomme paid the price for trying to hit every delivery for a six, and Ish Sodhi was beaten by the sharp turn. This, Kuldeep’s second in two matches in the country, was only the fifth four-for by a spinner visiting New Zealand this decade.
Doug Bracewell then chanced his arm, secured his maiden half-century and also denied Kuldeep a five-for. In the larger scheme of the match, his 58-run stand for ninth wicket with Ferguson only served to bring India’s victory margin down to two digits.