FOR THAT fleeting moment, the fully-illuminated Green Park Stadium was enveloped in hush silence. Mitchell Santner had just bludgeoned Jasprit Bumrah’s full toss into the Kanpur sky. As the ball swirled in the air, no one in the crowd was particularly certain where it would land.
However, as Shikhar Dhawan came charging in from the square-leg boundary to take the catch, the stadium heaved a collective sigh of relief. With the three-match ODI series between India and New Zealand locked at 1-1, the grand finale in Kanpur finished in thrilling circumstances.
There was a failed DRS review from India, a searing Bhuvneshwar Kumar yorker that uprooted Henry Nicholls’ leg stump, and finally the run-out of Tom Latham for 75. All this took place in the last five overs of New Zealand’s chase. As many as 668 runs were scored in the 100 overs. In the end, India sneaked home by a mere six runs to clinch the series 2-1. “Poora paisa vasool match hain bhai,” was how one of the spectators put it at the end of the spectacle.
The Kiwis fought till the very end. Their batsmen came out with no half-measures, smoking boundaries almost at will. They even annihilated Bhuvneshwar Kumar — India’s most improved fast bowler in recent times — collecting 92 runs from his 10 overs. At various stages in the game, the visitors were firmly in control of proceedings, and looked like acing the stunning chase of 338. Like when Latham and Nicholls added 59 runs for the fifth wicket in just 6.5 overs. Or when opener Colin Munro and New Zealand captain Kane Williamson kick-started a stunning counter-attacking blitz at the top of the order.
Even when Ross Taylor and Latham were quietly accumulating runs in the middle overs, you thought the Kiwis would seal the deal. For the ardent Indian fan, memories of that 5-run loss to South Africa at this venue two years ago came flooding back.
Despite all the thrill that New Zealand provided, they would rue that fact that not one of their top-five batsmen went on to score a century, like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma did for India in the first half of the game.
For all the excitement this hard-fought series provided, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said it was a wonderful exhibition of one-day cricket.
“Fantastic series. Some really good cricket played and great spirit. Credit to Virat and team, they were the better team, just. Lots of promising signs for us. The surfaces were good throughout. That’s the nature of the sport, but you do need to be at your best to beat such sides,” he said.
Hunting in pairs
India’s match-winning score of 337/6 would not have been possible without the 230-run partnership for the second wicket between Kohli and Sharma. Coming in at No.3, the Indian captain saw off a tricky period of play following Shikhar Dhawan’s early departure. He played with resolve to score his 32nd ODI hundred, his second in the three-match series. His confidence rubbed off on a tentative Rohit , as he too got into the act. The opener’s Man of the Match-winning 147 was a mix of sumptuous stroke-play mixed with a tinge of his usual elegance.
Kohli’s knock will easily go down as one of the most unselfish exhibitions of batsmanship in recent times. It was his assuring presence in the middle that helped Rohit prosper.
But it was Kohli’s riposte, an exquisite flick through the mid-wicket region off Tim Southee, that put India back on track after the early hiccup, and that shot in many ways helped Rohit, who had been uncharacteristically subdued this series, settle down. In the first game in Mumbai, he was dismissed by Trent Boult, while in Pune, he went into a shell.
Not knowing whether to attack or defend, the Mumbai batsman was dismissed for just seven runs. It wouldn’t take long for him to rediscover his silken touch though. On a placid Green Park track, he got into the groove with a delectable straight drive off Boult. This was followed by an audacious pull shot against Adam Milne. As India’s innings progressed, Rohit came into his own, unleashing his authority on a listless New Zealand bowling attack that lacked the tooth to make inroads.
Kohli, meanwhile, was happy playing second fiddle. He would score the odd boundary, but continued to sneak in a single here and a brace there, allowing Rohit to take centre stage. Not once did the duo look like throwing a wicket away.
At one stage, they even looked intent on batting through the 50 overs. On their way, they also neutralised Boult, who was supposed to be India’s biggest threat in this series decider. By the time Rohit and Kohli had finally departed — in the 42nd and 47th overs respectively — India were well past the 300-run mark.
Kohli and Rohit thrive in each other’s company. The reason being they understand each other’s games and complement each other well. They have been involved in some stellar partnerships in the past. Sunday was the fourth instance in ODIs when the two have put on a partnership in excess of 200 runs.
En route Kohli’s 113, he crossed the 9,000-run landmark in ODIs, scoring an amazing 1,437 runs this year, the most by an Indian captain in ODIs. But Kohli wouldn’t care much about these stats. His landmark 31st ton, which was scored under tiring circumstances in Mumbai last week, went in vain. His 32nd didn’t.