Virat Kohli’s dismissal was an anti-climax. In the two completed ODIs at the JSCA Stadium before this, he had scored 216 runs without being dismissed. On Wednesday, however, Kohli was not at his belligerent best. Mitchell Santner beat him with the turn, a couple of full-tosses were hit straight to the fielders and inside-edges ricocheted onto the pad. But Kohli was still going at a brisk pace, putting up a nice partnership with Ajinkya Rahane for the second wicket after Rohit Sharma’s early departure.
He was riding a little luck, but he was still batting. But it didn’t last long. Ish Sodhi was the executioner. And a rank half-tracker of all deliveries to boot. He went for the cut but only managed a thin edge to New Zealand keeper BJ Watling. A Kohli chase had been cut short. After a momentary pause, however, fans raised the roof.
The powerful but leaner frame of MS Dhoni has already made its appearance and a full house gave the home boy a rousing reception. The stage was set for him. Or so the crowd must have thought. But the first ball he faced was tossed up and spat past his outside edge. That was an ominous portent of sorts.
Still, India were far from a spot of bother. At 98 for 2, they were afar from pressing the panic button. Moreover, Rahane was batting comfortably at the other end, as good as he had batted in the entire limited-over series. A cover drive off Southee in the first over was smeared in class. It pierced a literally non-existent gap between cover and cover-point. An off-drive followed by a flat-bat six against Trent Boult highlighted a positive approach. His detractors often blame him for getting stuck in the middle of a knock. But on Wednesday, he had no such blocks. It was time to make the good form count.
But then the dynamics of the match changed dramatically. The need of the hour was a chunky partnership between Rahane and Dhoni, given the inexperienced middle order. Meanwhile, dew had started to make its presence felt. The odd ball was stopping, a few skidded through while some kept low. Dhoni was rickety but Rahane was going steady. He reached his half-century with a four off Anton Devcich, and looked poised for a longer haul. If Dhoni could somehow scratch through, India could sail through.
Then Kane Williamson summoned Jimmy Neesham. In hindsight, it seemed an inspired move. He made an instant impression. Rahane shuffled across a little too far to negate an off-cutter but the ball skidded on and struck him right in front. It turned out to be a defining moment. The balance tilted towards the Kiwis.
Neesham wasn’t finished as yet. He compounded India’s misery in the next over, by removing the home boy. It was another straight delivery that went through the gate and rattled the leg stump. Suddenly, it was very quiet inside the stadium. The skipper was out for 11 in 31 balls. His team seemed down and out. The crowd was muted.
A desperate measure
At Rahane’s dismissal, walked in Axar Patel. Sending him at No. 5 as a power-hitter appeared to be an act of desperation. The required run-rate, hovering around six, didn’t call for a batting shuffle. Maybe, Patel was promoted to counter the left-arm spin of Santner, but his batting is too limited to earn a promotion over Manish Pandey, who came after Dhoni was castled. Williamson then called his best bowler, Tim Southee. Southee accounted for Pandey with a slower delivery. The latter tried to clear the mid-on but didn’t get the elevation. Tom Latham took an excellent catch, leaping up. Kedar Jadhav was gone next ball, clueless against a Southee off-cutter.
Hardik Pandya fell to another fine running catch by Latham; this time at long-off and Santner purchased his first wicket. Patel and Amit Mishra briefly raised hopes with a 38-run eighth-wicket partnership in 6.1 overs. But pressure prompted silliness, and Mishra’s run out was a combination of miscommunication and poor athleticism. Boult castled Patel with a quick delivery and only formality remained. Dhawal Kulkarni’s 25 off 26 balls delayed the inevitable. India’s failed chase yet again attested their over-reliance on Kohli.
Earlier, the visitors won the toss for the first time in this tour and Williamson decided to bat first on a two-paced surface. India left out Jasprit Bumrah who wasn’t “100 per cent”, as a result of which Kulkarni got a game and Martin Guptill welcomed him with three consecutive fours in his first over.
After a long time, Guptill looked to regain his wonted touch. Latham offered his customary support at the other end and the Black Caps were rolling forth at brisk pace. They were 80 for no loss after 10 overs before spinners came and started to sap the life out of New Zealand batting.
Pressure eventually overwhelmed Latham, who tried to slog-sweep Patel from well outside the off-stump and ended up in Rahane’s palms at short fine-leg. Williamson was struggling for rhythm a bit but Guptill had been going along nicely until Pandya found the outside edge with a back of a length delivery. By then, however, he had done enough to be adjudged man of the match. What unfurled later has been a recurring pattern in this series — a meltdown. New Zealand scored 76 runs in their last 15 overs and lost five wickets to finish at 260/7.