Ravindra Jadeja very nearly pulled off a sensational victory with some lusty hits but could not take India home in the last over as the third one-dayer against New Zealand ended in a nail-biting tie to keep the visitors afloat in the five-match series.
Chasing New Zealand’s stiff target of 315 largely built around opener Martin Guptill’s 111, India came back from the dead to tie the game, riding on R Ashwin’s 65 and Jadeja’s 45-ball unbeaten 66 to save themselves the blushes of another overseas ODI series defeat.
In the thrilling dying moments of the game, India needed 18 off Corey Anderson’s last over for a victory but Jadeja and last man Varun Aaron could get 17 to tie the game on a good batting track at the Eden Park.
The visitors needed just two runs off the last ball but Jadeja could manage just a single. Though India could not win the match, they can still draw the five-match series by winning the remaining two matches in Hamilton (Jan 28) and Wellington (Jan 31).
The tie also ensured that India remained in the number one position in the ICC ODI rankings, having regained it yesterday following Australia’s defeat to England in the fourth one-dayer.
Put into bat for the third time in a row, New Zealand piled up 314 with Guptill scoring his fifth ODI century and useful contributions from Kane Williamson (65) and Luke Ronchi (38). The score could have been much bigger had there not been not a minor collapse towards the end of the innings which pegged the Kiwis back to some extent.
The Indians got off to a fairly good start but Shikhar Dhawan (28) and Rohit Sharma (39) again squandered the start to let the team down badly.
The quick dismissals of the in-form Virat Kohli (6) and Ajinkya Rahane (3) served as a huge jolt for the visitors who suddenly slumped to 79 for four from 64 for no loss.
Captain Dhoni (50) and Suresh Raina (31) stitched 67 runs for the fifth wicket to keep India in the hunt. Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja than put on 85 runs for the seventh wicket to raise hopes of a stunning victory.
Corey Anderson was the pick of the Kiwis bowlers with five for 63 though he appeared a trifle shaky in the tense last over.
During the Indian innings, Anderson tied down the two openers with a clever mix of deliveries and it resulted in a wicket.
Dhawan made 28 runs (off 25 balls) and was the first to go, pulling one straight to deep mid-wicket where Guptill took a fine, low catch. Only eight runs were scored when Rohit too was dismissed. The batsman, having scored 39 runs off 38 balls, with one four and four sixes, threw away his rousing start as he tried to play one over extra-cover only to edge it to third-man.
It put the focus once again on Kohli but the number three batsman had an off-day for once, looking edgy in his 20-ball stay at the wicket. He found it tough to handle Hamish Bennett and was caught behind in the 15th over to put an early douser on Indian hopes.
Three overs later, Rahane too gave away a faint edge down the leg-side as Anderson picked up his 3rd wicket of the spell, routing India’s chase in this must-win encounter.
It brought skipper MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina together, and the two put on 67 runs for the fifth wicket. Their runs came in good time, off only 60 balls, but the asking run-rate was already over seven-per-over when the 20th over of the Indian innings ended. As a result, the pair tried to break through the shackles and up the scoring ante, hitting a couple sixes.
But this bid made Raina a little circumspect as he tried to play uncharacteristic strokes once again, falling to a loose shot outside the off-stump, playing half-a-pull-shot.
He scored 31 runs off 39 balls, with three fours, a case of an Indian batsman once again throwing away his start. More importantly he left his skipper in the lurch, who still batted solidly to score his 53rd ODI half-century. He scored exactly 50 runs, off 60 balls, hitting two fours and three sixes, and putting on 38 important runs for the sixth wicket.
It was a platform from which Ashwin’s pairing with Ravindra Jadeja exploded.
The duo put on 85 runs in just 55 balls, at a striking rate of 9 runs per over as they looked to do the impossible.
The two batsmen backed each other perfectly, alternating the roles of aggressor and defender. Ashwin scored his maiden ODI fifty in the 41st over as the second power play resulted in 54 runs for the loss of one wicket.
With 54 runs needed off the last six overs, Ashwin was dismissed in the 45th over, as Guptill pulled off another smart catch and avoided a six, hopping over the boundary rope.
It nearly ended any hopes of a successful chase on the night, but Jadeja ploughed on. He enjoyed very less support from Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4) and Mohammed Shami (2), but Varun Aaron (2 not out) stuck around long enough for Jadeja to strike a few lusty blows and take the match into the last over.
Earlier, riding on opener Martin Guptill’s hundred, New Zealand were bowled out for 314 as Guptill scored 111 runs (129 balls, 12 fours, two sixes) and put on 153 runs for the second wicket with Kane Williamson (65).
Guptill and Jesse Ryder (20) made another quick start, as 32 runs came off the first four overs. But the latter again failed to get going after an initial burst, bowled this time by Kumar in the 5th over.
It brought Williamson to the crease, who didn’t let up in his golden run of form, putting up 50 runs with Guptill and Williamson in the 18th over of the innings, off only 79 balls.
India had conceded 15 additional runs in the first ten overs itself and finished with 21 extras for the whole innings.
The Black Caps crossed the 100-run mark three overs later, while Guptill brought on his half-century in the 25th over. He used up 80 balls and hit five fours, but looked to press on and increased his pace of scoring, bringing up his 100-run partnership for the second wicket with Williamson came up in the next over.
Williamson too scored his half-century off only 61 balls, with two fours and one six.
They put on 153 runs in 28.3 overs, passing 138 runs by Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming (in 2001) at Colombo.
Williamson again squandered the chance to get a hundred, bowled by Shami in the 33rd over, making 65 runs off 74 balls, with four fours and one six.
Corey Anderson walked out to bat at number four, ahead of Ross Taylor, in a bid to make use of the small ground and push the score in the range of 350.
But Ashwin bowled him for just 8 runs (5 balls, one six), his first wicket in international cricket since the Durban ODI, after 78.3 overs without one in both ODIs and Tests combined.
The batting power play was taken in the 35th over of the innings as Guptill went on to complete his fifth ODI hundred next over.
He looked to push the scoring rate further and was out caught on the boundary by Ajinkya Rahane off Jadeja. The fielder was in action again running out Ross Taylor and then catching Luke Ronchi (38) again off Jadeja, just as the keeper-batsman was starting to look dangerous.
In between, skipper Brendon McCullum played a loose shot and was caught by Ashwin off Aaron, out again for a duck, as the Kiwis lost six wickets for 90 runs.
It meant that the death overs were a different experience for the Indian attack this time around, conceding only 81 runs in the last ten overs. Only 33 runs had come off the second power play with two wickets lost therein, and it had set up this good finish for the Indians.
Nathan McCullum (1) and Mitchell McClenaghan (3) didn’t contribute much, but Tim Southee (27) hit a few lusty blows to take the score past the 300-run mark in the penultimate over.
He was run-out off the last ball of the innings, even as Hamish Bennet was unbeaten on three runs.