During their reign as the kings of cricket, Australia spread fear among the opposition with their ruthless execution, match after match. There was plenty of flair in their ranks but opponents knew they had to beat them. There was no question of Australia throwing it away.
A day before the first One-Day International, it was clear New Zealand were high on confidence facing the No 1 team. MS Dhoni spoke about how well India had planned. The lessons from the ODI debacle in South Africa without acclimatising seemed to have been learnt.
But on Sunday, it was the gap between planning and execution that let India down as they lost by 24 runs. Virat Kohli struck a magnificent century, but was left to virtually play the lone hand. The others were either not good enough against pace and bounce on a true pitch, or threw it away playing the desperate pull.
Virat has a remarkable record of guiding India to victory when he scores a century. But his 18th ton was not enough. The disappointment was visible as he walked off after his 123 (111 balls, 11x4, 2x6). He knew the battle was lost at that point, in the 45th over.
Dhoni won the toss and decided to bowl first. Among the areas he had spotted was how his bowlers needed to tackle the stiff breeze and challenges posed by this essentially rugby venue with short side boundaries and a slow outfield due to thick grass.
There was hardly any wind on a hot day and Mohammad Shami showed he is emerging as India’s bowling spearhead, as Ishant Sharma struggled, with two early wickets. But there was no support as Kane Williamson (71) and the experienced Ross Taylor (55) put together a 121-run partnership for the third wicket and set up the innings nicely.
Ravichandran Ashwin has taken just one wicket in the last four ODIs played overseas. He did not leak runs but when the specialist spinner can’t find a breakthough, it exposes the attack more. His spot in the eleven will again be questioned.
Corey Anderson, who hit the fastest ODI century against the West Indies, has plenty of brute strength. But every shot he played was off the middle of the bat. His unbeaten 68 (40 balls, 3x4, 4x6) and Luke Ronchi’s aggression took the sheen off Shami’s best ODI effort (4/55).
He went for 19 runs and Ravindra Jadeja conceded 20 in the next over. It was time to play catch up.
Rohit Sharma has not contributed since the South Africa tour began. He played two maiden overs against Tim Southee and then recklessly pulled Mitchell McClenaghan to backward square leg. Shikhar Dhawan seemed to have settled down only to fall to the pull that was his undoing in South Africa.
Suresh Raina, never comfortable against pace and bounce, denied Virat a second run and fell to an awkward pull the next ball. The delivery was not even close to Andre Milne’s thunderbolts. The 21-year-old put on an exhibition of sheer pace, the fastest delivery clocked at 153.4 kph.
Virat and Dhoni (40) put on a 95-run partnership but it was getting tougher. Virat had his heart in his mouth after miscuing on 96, but Jesse Ryder could not catch the swirling hit. He got his century but once Dhoni gloved a pull, the fight petered out, McClenaghan removed both to finish with four wickets.
The India skipper completed 300 dismissals in ODIs and Ishant took his 100th ODI wicket. But India have far too many things to sort out before the next game.