India eventually closed it with a flourish, a 2-0 series win sealed with M.S. Dhoni’s slog-swept six, but briefly after tea on Monday, things threatened to get a little out of hand.
Three wickets tumbled for 14 runs, Jeetan Patel appeared increasingly menacing, and suddenly, 95 runs away and five down, the home team’s position wasn’t all that robust.
Inch by inch, though, Virat Kohli and Dhoni hauled India out of the trough. At first there were a few boundaries to relieve the pressure, and when New Zealand introduced pace from both ends — a gambit that in retrospect did not come off — the pair simply knuckled down. Only twelve runs came in that seven-over period, but both batsmen were now at ease.
Kohli played a selection of outstanding cricket shots, driving powerfully on either side of the wicket. He hadn’t scored a run off his first 15 balls, but — like in the first innings — rose in confidence with every passing over. Dhoni was happy to let his colleague take charge here, turning the strike over as the target shrunk irretrievably.
Kohli raised his fifty with three searing boundaries off Tim Southee — a flick off his legs, a drive through the covers, and the best of the lot, a ramrod-straight drive past the bowler. He finished with an unbeaten 51 and a deserved man-of-the-match award.
The skies had turned black by the time Patel came on to bowl the 64th over of the innings. Dhoni hammered the first ball past point and the second into the stands, under the floodlights and over mid-wicket.
New Zealand’s resistance had lasted 17 minutes in the morning. Patel fell to Zaheer Khan for 22 and India came out needing 261 for victory. The way Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag began, it didn’t look the match would last until tea even. The Kiwi new ball bowlers took a beating as India raced to 65 in 10 overs.
Gambhir in form
Gambhir tore into Trent Boult, driving him straight and through the offside, appearing decidedly better than his first-innings self. Sehwag was not to be left behind either. After helping himself to three fours off Doug Bracewell, he went after Patel. He struck the off-spinner for a six and a four, but upon charging down the wicket, found his stumps rearranged.
India made slow progress thereafter, and was rattled further by after Gambhir’s dismissal five overs later. Then began a 10 over-period, leading up to lunch, when New Zealand exerted some sustained pressure through Bracewell and Boult.
Nothing came of it, though, and on resumption Cheteshwar Pujara looked in fine touch, cutting Patel to the fence. Sachin Tendulkar too managed two splendid boundaries past point, off Southee, and things looked sunny again.
The rain — in truth a light drizzle — then intervened, forcing a half-hour interruption. Tea was taken early and when play resumed, everything turned on its head.
Eleven deliveries in, Tendulkar was bowled, for the third innings in a row, the ball crashing into middle-stump off his pads. Pujara was caught at forward short leg off Patel. The latter bowled much better on the day; with some help from the pitch he was proving difficult to handle.
Suresh Raina was Patel’s third victim; the batsman took off down the pitch and was bowled by one that kept low. From 77 for none, India had sunk to 166 for five, in a little more than 30 overs. New Zealand had a ray of hope. But like the clouds overhead, it swiftly turned dark again.
New Zealand — 1st innings: 365
India — 1st innings: 353
New Zealand – 2nd innings: B. McCullum c Dhoni b Umesh 23 (21b, 3x4), M. Guptill b Umesh 7 (16b, 1x4), K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ashwin 13 (37b, 2x4), R. Taylor lbw b Ojha 35 (66b, 3x4), D. Flynn c Sehwag b Ashwin 31 (65b, 6x4), J. Franklin st. Dhoni b Ashwin 41 (90b, 3x4), K. van Wyk lbw b Ashwin 31 (48b, 3x4), D. Bracewell lbw b Ojha 22 (43b, 3x4), T. Southee b Ashwin 2 (11b), J. Patel c Dhoni b Zaheer 22 (27b, 3x4), T. Boult (not out) 4 (16b); Extras (b-4, lb-12, w-1): 17; Total (in 73.2 overs) 248.
Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Guptill), 2-31 (McCullum), 3-69 (Williamson), 4-111 (Taylor), 5-140 (Flynn), 6-195 (van Wyk), 7-216 (Franklin), 8-222 (Southee), 9-222 (Bracewell).
India bowling: Zaheer 14.2-2-46-1, Umesh 15-0-68-2, Ojha 21-6-49-2, Ashwin 22-1-69-5, Raina 1-1-0-0.
India – 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Taylor b Boult 34 (58b, 7x4), V. Sehwag b Patel 38 (33b, 7x4, 1x6), C. Pujara c Flynn b Patel 48 (104b, 7x4), S. Tendulkar b Southee 27 (34b, 5x4), V. Kohli (not out) 51 (82b, 9x4), S. Raina b Patel 0 (10b), M.S. Dhoni (not out ) 48 (60b, 3x4, 2x6); Extras (b-4, lb-6, nb-1, w-5): 16; Total (for five wkts. in 63.2 overs): 262.
Fall of wickets: 1-77 (Sehwag), 2-83 (Gambhir), 3-152 (Tendulkar), 4-158 (Pujara), 5-166 (Raina).
New Zealand bowling: Boult 16-4-64-1, Southee 18-3-68-1, Bracewell 14-3-52-0, Patel 15.2-3-68-3