Tue, 17 Sep 2019

India 156 for 2 (Dhawan 75*) beat New Zealand 157 (Williamson 64, Kuldeep 4-39, Shami 3-19) by eight wickets (DLS method)

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Mohammed Shami continued to challenge for India's first XI come World Cup with another lovely display of seam bowling to set up a comfortable win for India - their first in an ODI in New Zealand since 2009 - opening ODI of the five-match series. Back together for the first time since the Asia Cup final in September last year, the two wristspinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, tied the hosts in knots after Shami's initial burst of 4-2-13-2. Kane Williamson resisted arguably the best ODI bowling line-up in the world, but he too ended up making a mistake first ball after the second drinks break, which meant New Zealand innings lasted only 38 overs. The target of 158 was never going to test India.

The best bowling line-up they might well be, but India were missing two vital cogs, the best white-ball bowler in the world, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya, whose presence allows them to play the two wristspinners together. With Vijay Shankar in as Pandya's replacement - not in his league at the moment - India were finally happy to take the risk of playing both the wristspinners together. New Zealand went the other way tactically, picking the pace of Doug Bracewell over the wristspin of Ish Sodhi and the batting-first role of Colin de Grandhomme.

It never came down to the tactics as Shami began with a performance that might have made all the difference. After New Zealand chose to bat first - unlike the trends elsewhere, New Zealand batted first and won two matches against Sri Lanka at home in the recent series - Shami made all of the tiny bit of assistance available to the new ball. Shami kept threatening the stumps consistently, and tested the on-the-up techniques of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro. With the pitch not a flatbed, New Zealand would have already begun to question their decision to bat first.

The second over of the innings was almost perfect. The seam kept coming out bolt upright, the ball was never on a half-volley but always brought the batsman forward. When it moved in the air, it went away; when it seamed, it nipped back in. The first one swung away, took the leading edge, but fell safe. The second jagged back in, but just got the inside edge before hitting Guptill. The third one seamed back in big time, nailing Guptill - no shot offered - right in front, but the bounce possibly saved him. The next one was an outswinger, which was left alone. And then the seam worked again, bringing the ball back in only after pitching, and taking the inside edge on. This made Shami the fastest Indian to 100 ODI wickets.

In his next over, Shami went round the wicket to the left-hand batsman Munro, and defeated a big drive with seam movement again. At 18 for 2, the two best batsmen in the side, Ross Taylor and Williamson, were reduced to damage control when they would have wanted risk-free accumulation.

Taylor had to take risks early doors, but just as he looked to be settling down, Chahal slowed the ball down asking him new questions. And when a frustrated Taylor left his crease, Chahal slowed it down further. The ball held up and straightened just enough to draw an easy return catch. Tom Latham, whose batting against spin had been a revelation on New Zealand's last tour of India, fell to the same trick, playing a touch too early, giving Chahal, prime candidate for it in contemporary cricket, a second return catch.

If 18 for 2 was bad, 76 for 4 was dire, but Williamson - reprieved by Kedar Jadhav off Shankar when 20 - looked entirely in control. They had denied him the third-man singe with a wide slip earlier on, but Williamson was now manipulating the field really well, jumping on anything remotely short and placing the fuller balls into the gaps. However, he kept losing partners at the other end. Henry Nicholls hit Kedar Jadhav straight to short midwicket, and Mitchell Santner walked right across to Shami, which is cardinal because he is the one man who keeps targeting the stumps.

New Zealand went into drinks at 143 for 6, this was not entirely a flat surface, and they had a glimmer of hope if Williamson could bat through the innings. However, first ball after the break, Williamson seemed to have played a premeditated shot, looking to hit his first six of the innings by taking the man at long-on on. Having seen he was not to the pitch of this ball from Kuldeep, Williamson failed to check the shot and gave the man at long-on an easy catch.

Kuldeep then ran through the tail, with MS Dhoni calling the last wicket blow for blow. "He will defend eyes closed, you can go round the wicket and bowl the other one." Kuldeep went round the wicket, Trent Boult tried the dourest front-foot defensive, and the ball didn't turn in, taking the outside edge for slip to gobble it. Kuldeep was in stitches at how easily the dismissal came about, which is how the chase was too.

The only thing between Indian and victory was the setting sun, which was in the batsmen's eye, causing a delay of more than a half hour, and not for the first time at McLean Park where the pitches run from east to west. Post a delay of more than a half hour, India - already 10 overs into the chase - were asked to get 156 in 49 overs. As a final piece of good news, Shikhar Dhawan - averaging 20 over the last nine innings - signalled return to form with an unbeaten 75.

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