When the team lists were flashed on Wednesday ahead of the fourth ODI between India and New Zealand,there was a feeling the Kiwis might have read the pitch better as they had included three specialist spinners.
By the time seamer Dhawal Kulkarni had conceded three fours in a dismal second over, India looked in real danger of letting go of the reins. At 80/0 after 10 overs, New Zealand were set for at least 300, if not more.
That is where MS Dhoni’s captaincy intervened. Doing away with pace altogether, he brought on Amit Mishra and Axar Patel from either ends. Thus began India’s slow reclaiming of the game.
Nothing happened abruptly but in the next 10 overs, New Zealand found their initial good work undone by the loss of the solid Tom Latham with only 36 runs scored. By then Dhoni’s calculations were clear. He wasn’t going to give either Kulkarni or Hardik Pandya their full quota of overs. The bulk of the bowling had to be done by Mishra, Patel and Kedar Jadhav.
It didn’t, however, mean Dhoni would be over-reliant on spin. After Pandya’s two overs in his first spell, Dhoni brought him back for another three-over spell in the middle.
Teased and tormented for 15 overs of spin that produced just 58 runs, Pandya’s pace was a welcome change. And it happened first ball. Martin Guptill couldn’t keep off a short-of-length ball delivered at an angle to him. By the time he lined up for a punch through cover, Guptill found the delivery too close for the shot. Dhoni doesn’t miss many behind the stumps.
With the experiment with Pandya bearing fruit, Dhoni promptly went back to spin. On a slow pitch of unpredictable bounce, he wasn’t going to provide the Kiwis any extra pace. And by giving Pandya that short spell, Dhoni also ensured Jadhav — still a part-time spinner — didn’t have to bowl 10 overs.
Spin it was from the 30th to 44th overs, but barring one over from Jadhav, the rest were bowled by the experienced Mishra and Patel. That highlighted in what detail Dhoni had worked out his bowling.
But what topped it all was Dhoni’s glovework. Having lost the top three batsmen, Ross Taylor was New Zealand’s only hope to get close to 300. But Taylor was a touch slow returning for a second run. Kulkarni’s throw from fine-leg wasn’t flat but Dhoni decided against collecting it behind the stumps. Instead, he collected the ball in front and directed it on to the stumps in one swift motion, without even looking at his target.
That bit of magic lowered New Zealand’s hopes to getting to 300. It is a different story that the Indian batting line-up failed to capitalise on that and fell short by 19 runs.