Taylor ton delivers series triumph
New Zealand 280 for 3 (Taylor 112* Williamson 60, B McCullum 49*) beat India 278 for 5 (Dhoni 79*, Rohit 79, Jadeja 62*) by seven wickets It took its time coming, it tested a few nerves, but New Zealand finally sealed their first series win at home in five years, not counting the ones against Zimbabwe and Bangaldesh. They should have won it three nights ago, they should probably have won it more comfortably tonight after having reduced India to 278 and then reached 54 for 0 in seven overs and 182 for 2 in 33. They will be thankful that they had their two most consistent batsmen - Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson - in the middle when Ravindra Jadeja started to turn the ball square after he himself gave India a fighting total with 62 off 54, a much more assured innings than the one that tied the previous match to keep India alive.
Williamson now has four half-centuries in four matches in this series, and Taylor made up for missing out on one in Auckland by turning this into a big one once he crossed 50. Taylor's innings was exceptional in its discipline: he didn't try his favourite slog-sweep, in fact he scored just 10 runs in his midwicket arc. Most of his runs came behind and in front of square on the off side. India couldn't be accused of showing similar discipline when they batted, but they were also put under pressure by a superbly disciplined start by Kyle Mills and Tim Southee, which led to their repetition of the shot that has been getting them out. Between them Southee and Mills bowled three maidens, took three wickets, and conceded just 78.
India surprised everyone by not only getting rid of their stubbornness but going to the other end. Not only did they drop Suresh Raina, which was long overdue, they also left out Shikhar Dhawan for Ambati Rayudu, and decided to bat first after having invited the opposition 20 straight times outside Asia. With no specialist opener in the side, India moved everyone up by one spot, which meant India's best batsman was now opening.
However, the opening spells that Mills and Southee bowled would have frustrated the best of openers. There was nothing to drive or cut, forget getting too straight, and India would have had to take a risk if they were going to score. The first risk was taken to the first short ball bowled, and all Kohli managed was a top edge off Southee. Soon Mills got a similar response from Ajinkya Rahane. In between the two dismissals, Rohit became desperate, somehow hit the first boundary of the innings, enjoyed a drop from Taylor, and India still reached only 28 in 10 overs.
More good luck, and some classy Rohit shots, followed, and a 79-run partnership shored India up. However, the luck soon ran out. Rayudu top-edged Hamish Bennett, and in an ironical turn of events Rohit edged Kane Williamson for a catch down the leg side. Of all the bowlers, of all the manners. From 151 for 5, India came back remarkably with two batsmen who applied themselves before taking 100 off the last 10 overs. Say what you will about the strategy, Dhoni proved his batting worth with a third fifty in a row. Jadeja, at the other end, showed Auckland was no fluke, and played the cleanest knock of the three fifties in the Indian innings.
It was a good comeback if you look at the way India began: two boundaries and 28 runs in 10 overs. New Zealand hit two fours in the first over, reached 28 in the fourth, and were well on their way to hammer India when Jesse Ryder paid once again for his tendency to stay leg side of the ball in order to create room for his off-side hits. That played-on dismissal was followed by Martin Guptill's lbw - the first such dismissal of the series - and India now had an opening.
The opening began to look wider when Jadeja turned the first ball he bowled across Williamson. He beat the bat three times in the first over. R Ashwin provided good support from the other end. The second 10 overs of New Zealand's innings were the most crucial period of the match. Both Williamson and Taylor played with utmost caution, scored just the 30 runs, saw the asking rate reach 6.13, but didn't give the spinners a wicket.
You would have expected Dhoni to take one of the spinners off and continue attacking with one, but he completely took the pressure off by removing both Jadeja and Ashwin. Suddenly all the pressure was eased, and Taylor and Williamson - 24 off 37 and 17 off 38 respectively - cashed in. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron and Rayudu all conceded boundaries as 63 runs came in the nine overs before Ashwin was brought back.
By that time, you would have thought, the game was over, but Jadeja turned it around with a run-out off his own bowling. Another nervous period followed as Brendon McCullum, searching for form, on a hat-trick of ducks, fumbled around a little and the asking rate went past six again. Taylor, though, stood firm at the other end, and guided his captain through hitting timely fours to keep the requirement within reach.
The next call of duty was to play out the two remaining overs of Jadeja. That done, the two finished their highest-successful chase against India in style, turning what had looked nervous into a comfortable win with 11 balls to spare.