Just a day after Gautam Gambhir said that Yusuf Pathan deserves more opportunities to express himself, the Baroda big-hitter lived up to the Indian skipper's faith.
Yusuf tided past a rain-interruption and made a mockery of an inflationary required-rate while his unbeaten 123 paved the way for India's five-wicket victory over New Zealand in the fourth One Day International of the five-match series at the Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Tuesday night.
Chasing New Zealand's 315 for seven in 50 overs, India finished with 321 for five in 48.5 overs to extend its series-lead to 4-0.
The pursuit was never easy after the law of averages caught up with Gambhir (27) and Virat Kohli. Briefly the Delhi-duo's dismissals seemed a minor aberration as Parthiv Patel (53) biffed around and Yuvraj Singh effortlessly hoisted Scott Styris.
India though suffered another twin-blow when Patel got ambitious and Yuvraj crunched a pull straight to short mid-wicket with Nathan McCullum being the grateful bowler.
Rohit Sharma, who replaced Murali Vijay in the eleven, then played with his customary elan and whetted his appetite with sixes off McCullum and New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori.
Rohit (44) slotted the higher gears while Yusuf (123 n.o., 96b, 7x4, 7x6) preferred the supporting role until he revealed his blistering self with a mighty strike against Vettori.
True to his past of frittering away brisk starts, Rohit scooped Tim Southee straight to Vettori and just as Yusuf and Saurabh Tiwary were settling down, the match was grounded under a wet curtain.
The rain-stoppage lasted an hour but once play resumed with no reduction in overs, Yusuf muscled Vettori over the ropes and struck a massive six off Kyle Mills.
During the batting Power Play from overs 39-43, Yusuf briefly remained tentative against the seamers before he kept the fans in the upper tiers interested with mighty blows against Mills in an over that went for 21 runs.
Tiwary chips in
The tide had turned and an Indian victory seemed as inevitable as Yusuf's maiden ODI hundred that was ushered in with a swat off Andy McKay. In the match-winning unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership of 133 runs, Tiwary too found his voice towards the end.
Earlier, James Franklin's unbeaten 98 (69b, 12x4, 3x6) added flourish to New Zealand's steady tenure at the crease after Gambhir opted to field under overcast skies. Franklin's personal best in limited overs cricket was etched with shots straight down the park and his deft wrists often worked the ball into the gaps.
Walking in at 170 for four in 29.4 overs with Ross Taylor for company, Franklin continued unhindered despite edging a four in the initial minutes against part-timer Rohit.
Taylor (44) cut out the risks and put his hoick past mid-wicket in cold-storage and shockingly for New Zealand, he was out first ball of the batting Power Play taken from the 38th over. In trying to flick Ashwin, Taylor missed the line and the final thrust firmly rested on Franklin and he readily complied.
The southpaw cut Yusuf (three for 48), square drove Zaheer Khan and lofted Ashish Nehra. Franklin survived a scare on 47 when he spooned a leading-edge but a diving Yusuf faltered. He then nervously reached his fifty, second in ODIs, as he chipped one over a scampering Yusuf at short covers.
Franklin then cut loose with the high-point being the 21 runs he plundered in the final over bowled by Nehra with a stirring sequence of 6, 6, 4, 4 and 1 to help New Zealand dream about a much-awaited victory.
Before Franklin soared, the visitor's innings was blotted by batsmen, ranging from Brendon McCullum (42) to Styris (46), who flattered to deceive against an Indian attack that failed to impose pressure.
New Zealand: M. Guptill c Yuvraj b Nehra 30 (25b, 5x4), B. McCullum c Rohit b Ashwin 42 (42b, 8x4, 1x6), J. How c Yusuf b Nehra 4 (6b), R. Taylor lbw b Ashwin 44 (73b, 3x4), S. Styris c Tiwary b Yusuf 46 (48b, 3x4), J. Franklin (not out) 98 (69b, 12x4, 3x6), D. Vettori b Yusuf 16 (19b, 2x4), K. Mills b Yusuf 1 (6b), N. McCullum (not out) 13 (12b, 1x4); Extras (b-1, lb-8, w-12): 21; Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs): 315.
Fall of wickets: 1-62 (Guptill), 2-70 (How), 3-91 (McCullum), 4-170 (Styris), 5-210 (Taylor), 6-249 (Vettori), 7-251 (Mills).
Powerplays: One (Overs 1-10): 70/1; Bowling (11-15): 27/2; Batting (38-42): 36/1.
India bowling: Zaheer 8-0-40-0, Praveen 7-0-42-0, Ashwin 10-0-66-2, Nehra 9-1-70-2, Yuvraj 3-0-21-0, Yusuf 9-0-48-3, Rohit 4-0-19-0.
India: G. Gambhir c Guptill b McKay 27 (24b, 4x4), Parthiv c sub b N. McCullum 53 (57b, 8x4), V. Kohli c Mills b McKay 0 (2b), Yuvraj c How b N. McCullum 20 (28b, 1x4, 1x6), Rohit Sharma c Vettori b Southee 44 (48b, 4x4, 1x6), Yusuf Pathan (not out) 123 (96b, 7x4, 7x6), S. Tiwary (not out) 37 (39b, 3x4, 1x6). Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-8, nb-2): 17. Total (for five wkts., in 48.5 overs): 321.
Fall of wickets: 1-67 (Gambhir), 2-68 (Kohli), 3-103 (Yuvraj), 4-108
(Parthiv), 5-188 (Rohit).
Powerplays: One (Overs 1-10): 68/2; Bowling (11-15): 18/0; Batting (39-43): 44/0.
New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-1-65-0, Southee 10-0-64-1, McKay 7-0-63-2, McCullum 7.5-0-38-2, Styris 4-1-27-0, Vettori 10-0-57-0.