Metres away from the ropes at Seddon Park, the World Cup trophy stood. To build awareness among the fans, the 2015 organisers had kept the golden cup on display for spectators to hold, lift and get snapped with. Scores queued up, with their backs to the action on the field.
On Tuesday, apart from those in the stands and embankments, there were eleven more ‘spectators’ within the boundaries — the Indian players. They too might’ve done well to have their pictures clicked with the silverware. For, if they are to play in Australia-New Zealand a year down the line like they did on Tuesday, or for that matter like they have in the entire series, the trophy is unlikely to remain with them when the quadrennial finishes on March 29, 2015.
In these parts, playing under these conditions, there will be more worthy contestants than what the reigning champions have so far projected themselves to be. New Zealand, who thrashed India by 7 wickets to take a series-winning 3-0 lead, are likely to be one of them.
Up against an imposing total on a slowish, turning track, the hosts applied themselves in a manner many Indian batsmen did not. Ross Taylor made an unbeaten 112 runs, his ninth ODI century, while Kane Williamson scored his fourth successive half century as the duo first saw off the spin threat before picking off the erratic Indian pacers to put New Zealand in a commanding position.
Later, Brendon McCullum joined Taylor and the pair knocked off 92 runs in 13.5 overs to see both the target of 279 and the team through.
To be fair to the visitors, they tried a few things. Stuart Binny got the India cap after Suresh Raina was left out, while Shikhar Dhawan made way for Ambati Rayudu. Still, surprising was Dhoni’s decision to bat first — something that hadn’t happened outside the subcontinent in the last three years.
Down to 10 men?
Well-intentioned as they were, the changes didn’t quite work. They backfired. Binny wasn’t required to bat, but got only one over to bowl and conceded eight runs in that. His role was so limited, India might as well have played with 10 players. Rayudu, who made a promising 37 before his soft-dismissal, actually got to bowl more — though certainly not better — than the Karnataka all-rounder. Rayudu gave away 23 runs in three overs.
However, the downfall began with Virat Kohli. In Dhawan’s absence, Kohli opened the innings. India’ s trump card was dismissed cheaply as he tried to muscle his way out of the choke-hold that Kyle Mills and Tim Southee applied on the batsmen early on. Kohli was out top-edging his pull off Southee in front of the square, caught by Jimmy Neesham at mid-wicket for two. India were 5-1 in the fourth over. Not long after, Ajinkya Rahane too fell to the short ball.
One of the reasons that the duo got out trying to play a forced shot was because the boundaries just did not come. Only one four was hit in the first 10 overs — besides Rohit Sharma’ s six off Kyle mills in the fifth over — and that came off Rayudu’ s bat.
At the other end, Rohit was leading a charmed life, with edges falling short or long. He was also dropped by Taylor at slips at the start of his innings. But Rohit gradually got into his groove as he played a few handsome shots on his way to a first half century in eight innings. Together with Rayudu, he added 79 runs for the third wicket. However, India lost both Rohit and Rayudu as well as Ashwin in a span of eight overs to be 151 for five after 33.1 overs.
It was then that MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja took over. They played the short ball emphatically. with the final 100 runs of their 126-run partnership coming in just 10 overs. India ended their innings at 278, a formidable total on a spin-friendly track. And without the man of New Zealand’s hour, Corey Anderson, rested due to a sore shoulder, the hosts could have even been mistaken for vulnerable.
Any such assertions were rejected promptly as opener Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill raced to 54 runs off 7.2 overs, both savaging into Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Dhoni brought in Varun Aaron and he immediately gave the team the breakthrough, forcing Ryder to pull one onto his stumps. Guptill too departed, leg before off Shami in the next over, as New Zealand looked to have been pegged back by the twin blows.
Dhoni then applied further pressure by introducing the spinners from either end. Jadeja and Ashwin put the brakes on the scoring. However, Williamson and Taylor saw off their first spells. Dhoni then brought Binny in for his solitary over and later, Rayudu for a three-over spell.
Now, the pressure was off.