Mahendra Singh Dhoni insists he is a practical man, and sticks to his guns even if the world believes he is obstinate.
His decision to chase targets despite coming up short should rank high among them. In South Africa, he chose to bowl first in the first two ODIs and it led to heavy defeats.
Despite losing in Napier and Hamilton, Dhoni again chose to bowl first with the series on the line on Saturday.
In the end, Ravindra Jadeja’s scintillating late hitting, which produced 17 runs in the final over and forced a tie at the Eden Park, should lift India, down 0-2.
Dhoni’s decision is to protect his bowlers than due to unshakeable faith in his batsmen in challenging overseas conditions. In New Zealand, in particular, the odd shape of the grounds and pitch conditions give the hosts a clear advantage and batting first could have meant trying something different.
The struggling Ishant Sharma made way for Varun Aaron but it was Mohammed Shami, the main wicket-taker in the first two games, who got carried away by the extra bounce on the drop-in pitch. He conceded 84 runs in 10 overs to let the Kiwis escape to 314 despite losing quick wickets in two phases.
The New Zealand pacemen’s ability to hit the deck consistently allows them to pitch further up. India seamers need to keep it shorter to get similar lift. The result is the ball often sits up to be punished. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been an exception, and bowled a tidy spell again.
Opener Martin Guptill’s solid 111 and his 153-run partnership with Kane Williamson (65) for the second wicket set the platform for a massive score.
Williamson has scored three half-centuries in a row, tormenting the India bowlers like Quinton de Kock did in South Africa. But the two men under the scanner — Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja — played important roles to rein in the total, sharing three wickets and conceding only 94 runs in their 20 overs.
India’s batsmen will be grateful they also shone with the bat and made up for another collective top-order failure; this despite Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan providing the best start in a while by adding 64. Both fell after getting set.
Virat Kohli had a rare off-day, playing out two maiden overs on the trot against Hamish Bennet before nicking behind the stumps.
Dhoni calmly made his second fifty in a row but there were still 131 runs to get in 14.2 overs when he fell to Corey Anderson – who captured his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs.
Ashwin’s dismissal of the dangerous all-rounder early on was crucial in India staying in the game at the halfway mark, and he took up the batting challenge, stroking his maiden ODI fifty with a brilliant 65.
Jadeja (66 no – 45 b, 5x4, 4x6), left to bat with the tail, rode his luck. Still, with 18 to get off the last over bowled by Anderson, with the left-hander suffering cramps in his forearm, few would have expected the drama.
Two fours and two wides left India needing eight off the last two balls when Jadeja hit a stunning six and got the single.