Of the match situations that coach Duncan Fletcher gave Ravindra Jadeja to bat in at the nets on Wednesday, 18 off 6 balls with No.11 at the other end wasn’t one. That was exactly what the equation boiled down to in the third ODI, a do-or-die match for India. Till then the momentum had swung like a pendulum for 99 overs. First, New Zealand looked all set to score in excess of 350 at one stage. Then it looked like they would struggle to make 300. Eventually, they settled for an above-par 314. Chasing, India flew off the blocks but were soon five down in the 28th over. They found a second wind thanks to the ever-reliable Mahendra Singh Dhoni and unlikely herores R Ashwin and Ravindra Jajeda and were three clean hits away from a miraculous win.
As Corey Anderson, who with 5/45 in his first nine overs was the best bowler on show, ran into bowl the first ball, there was so much pent-up tension in the stands, one could cut it with a knife.
First ball. Anderson banged it just short of length and Jadeja pulled it away in the mid-wicket direction for a boundary. Anderson then bowled a wide and a dot ball to make it 13 off four. The left-arm pacer then delivered another dot ball, with Jadeja refusing to take a run after guiding it to third man. Thirteen off three. A dot ball here, and an Indian win would be ruled out, provided there were no extras. Jadeja took a moment off and closed his eyes as if meditating.
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Last over drama
Next ball was full and into the body, but the batsman did well to get out the way at the last moment. It was ruled wide. Anderson’s fifth ball, another back-of-a-length delivery was flicked for four towards fine leg while the penultimate ball, a similar delivery, was swatted away for a six over mid-wicket. Off the last ball the left-handed batman tried to hit through covers, but the shot was blocked and Jadeja and Varun Aaron took one run to tie the match and keep the series alive.
The entire Indian team trooped out of the dressing room to receive Aaron and Jadeja, who was unbeaten on 68 off 45 balls with five four and four sixes. It was Jadeja’s seventh ODI half-century and first in over one year.
The man that Jadeja took the baton from was R Ashwin, promoted ahead of the left-hander at No.7. Ashwin, has a Test average touching 40, but is not considered to be particularly explosive. He came to bat when Dhoni was fighting against the odds, trying to revive an innings which had begun promisingly with a 64-run opening stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma before slumping to a hopeless 146 for five. The hopeless chase became almost a lost cause when Dhoni was caught in the deep, trying to pull Anderson out of the park. India were 184 for six in the 36th over.
Ashwin started playing his whole repertoire of shots, some of which resembled VVS Laxman’s. Not just the strokes, the rearguard that he launched, too, was just as stunning as some of the Hyderabadi’s. It was in this manner that he played his innings, and with Jadeja at the other end, and without people really realising it, he took India close enough to the total to launch a final assault.
Soon after getting to his maiden ODI half century, Ashwin perished trying to smash Nathan McCullum over deep mid-wicket only to be caught spectacularly by Martin Guptill. Standing just inside the boundary line, Guptill caught the ball but his mometum carried him over. However, he has the presence of mind to throw the ball in the air, step out, step back in again and complete the catch. After Ashwin departed, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami followed him in quick succession, but Jadeja kept the hopes alive.
It would have been a no contest, however, if New Zealand had made full use of the platform that Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson provided. Guptill scored a 129-ball 111, his fifth ODI century, and added 153 runs for the second wicket with Williamson, who score a third consecutive fifty. The duo hammered Indian’s pace attack, which saw Varun Aaron replacing Ishant Sharma. But an erratic Mohammad Shami did not let Ishant’s absence be felt as he gave away 84 runs in his 10 overs.
New Zealand were 189/1 in the 33rd over when Williamson was clean bowled by Shami and the in-form Anderson walked out to bat when the law of averages caught up with both. Anderson failed with the bat and Ashwin got a wicket, clean bowling the batsman for eight. With this wicket, 400 for New Zealand became out of question.
However, they were still in for a big score, but first lost Guptill and Brendon McCullum within a space of six runs to be 230 for five in 39th over. Then they lost next four wickets for 18 runs and needed Tim Southee’s cameo to go past 300. It looked safe, but on this wicket it wasn’t a given.