World Cup

Dhoni, Raina play the winning hand

India's Suresh Raina waves his bat as his captain MS Dhoni watches after scoring a century while batting against Zimbabwe during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)   | Photo Credit: Ross Setford

Suresh Raina and M.S. Dhoni make a contrasting pair of batsmen. One is a jittery left-hander, occasionally nagged by self-doubt but unstoppable in full flow; the other bats with an ascetic calm. Theirs, though, is an astonishingly good alliance. Raina and Dhoni now average 62.14 as a partnership, better than any combination in one-day cricket with over 3000 runs together.

On Saturday at Eden Park, they dug India out of a slough again and helped secure a six-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in their final Pool B match.

In what was possibly his last international appearance, Brendan Taylor had scored an excellent hundred to lead his side to 287. In response, India was in some trouble at 92 for four before Dhoni and Raina knit an unbroken stand of 196 (157b) to haul the team over the line.

The two were united at the crease at the exit of Virat Kohli, who was bowled around his legs by Sikander Raza for 38. A little earlier, Ajinkya Rahane had been run out by the narrowest of margins; India knew that winning from there would take some doing.

Sean Williams and Raza continued to keep a lid on the scoring as the required rate spiralled. Dhoni and Raina saw no cause for alarm, though, even when the demand for runs breached eight an over. They knew the dimensions of the ground and were convinced of their own abilities to clear the ropes. Soon, quiet overs were punctuated by mighty hits: successive sixes off Williams by Raina and later a pair of fours by Dhoni off Solomon Mire.

There was no denying that the game hung in the balance when Raina swept Raza and the ball took the top edge. It soared over short fine-leg, where a back-pedalling Hamilton Masakadza dropped the simplest of catches. Raina was on 47 then, and India 131 runs away from victory. He would make Zimbabwe regret it for the rest of the evening.

India needed 91 off the last 10 overs; the game was eventually won with eight balls to spare. Raina remained unbeaten on 110, and Dhoni on 85 as India completed its highest run-chase in World Cups to leave the group stage with six wins out of six.

After Dhoni had won the toss and inserted the opponent, the Zimbabwe innings was anchored by a fantastic century from Taylor.

It was an emotional afternoon for the 29-year-old, one that had begun with him holding back tears during the national anthem before kissing the badge on his shirt.

Prior knowledge of a parting does not make it any easier to deal with.

Taylor had arrived after a torrid beginning, with both openers dismissed inside the fifth over. He found himself paddling upstream too, against India’s new-ball pair.

Only one boundary came in the first nine overs as Zimbabwe ambled to 19 for two.

The advent of Williams, though, changed the tempo of the innings and indeed the contest. Taylor and he went after India’s spinners, who seemed to run out of ideas.

Taylor swept and reverse-swept with equal comfort, while Williams was severe on R. Ashwin, hopping down the pitch and dumping the bowler over the leg-side boundary on three separate occasions.

The off-spinner had the last laugh, however, when he changed ends and grabbed a low return catch off Williams. It broke a rapidly burgeoning partnership of 93 runs (105b).

Taylor, though, wasn’t finished. He entered three figures with a splendid ramp shot over third-man for six; joy washed over him.

It was the first century against India in the World Cup, and Taylor’s second for the tournament.

He was ultimately dismissed for 138 by Mohit Sharma, the last 70 runs having come off 27 balls.

Taylor walked off with a wave to the crowd as a number of Indian fielders ran up to him to offer their congratulations. His effective retirement from international cricket is not a seismic event, but few would have grudged him this happy farewell.


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