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New Zealand throw race for final wide open

A jittery India allowed Kiwis to wriggle out of a tight position to clinch a 4-wicket win over the hosts.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2003 00:16 IST

The beginning was somewhat similar for both teams. Both lost their best batsmen two balls into the sixth over, adjudged leg-before by umpire AV Jayaprakash after hitting the earlier delivery for a delectable boundary.

Unlike Sachin Tendulkar, however, Stephen Fleming’s dismissal looked a lot more authentic.

Chris Harris and Lou Vincent left soon after to questionable decisions, this time by Neil Mallender, and New Zealand’s quest for 247 floundered after an initial flourish which saw them score at seven an over for the first five.

On a pitch hardly conducive to stroke-play, Fleming was on song in the brief while he was at the wicket.

Five boundaries in a score of 24, made in 14 balls, tells its own story and Ajit Agarkar got him just when Fleming was threatening to play his best innings of the TVS Cup.

Zaheer then removed Harris and Vincent from the Mahanadi End and from 39 for no loss, New Zealand were 44 for three. And when Dravid brought on the spinners, Harbhajan scalped Nevin who tried to sweep and ended up being caught by Yuvraj Singh at square-leg.

At 67 for four, Cuttack may have been readying for an early night but Craig McMillan and Scott Styris - whose slow medium-pacers accounted for Mohammed Kaif, Dravid and VVS Laxman - had other ideas.

They cut out the frills and yet managed five runs per over mainly through singles and twos. Dravid brought Zaheer and Harbhajan back, gave Tendulkar a bowl but nothing worked. It also meant Hemang Badani and Yuvraj Singh were bowling after 45 overs when India’s only option was to get wickets.

It could have been different though had Dravid not dropped Styris off Harbhajan. Murali Kartik brought some cheer removing Styris - another leg-before decision after a 127-run match-winning partnership - when he tried a forward defensive stroke after making 68 and Mohammed Kaif’s brilliant dive and throw running from short midwicket to run out Jacob Oram suddenly brought India back into the match.

But Brendon McCullum and McMillan, who once raced down the pitch to hit a Kartik delivery which slipped out of his hand before the umpire declared it a dead-ball, ensured a smooth victory - the Kiwis’s first in this meet. McMillan was unbeaten on 82 off 92 balls and McCullum on 19.

The four-wicket win put New Zealand on par with India on the points table. Both have nine points. On a pitch where the bounce was consistently low - the second ball of India’s innings skidded through to McCullum much to makeshift opener Laxman’s chagrin - no Indian batsmen barring Kaif stayed long enough to post a big total.

But for Zaheer tearing into Oram, even 246 seemed impossible. Two sixes and a four off the last three balls after a couple each of the first and the third helped Zaheer make a 13-ball 33 and India set a fighting target. Till Jayaprakash ruined it.

India had managed a sedate yet decent start. Tendulkar and VVS Laxman hit five boundaries in the first six overs, five of them off Kyle Mills. Then, Tendulkar fell trying to play Mills across the line. True, he didn’t stretch too far but the ball looked like missing leg stump. Kaif survived a similar shout but then Mallender was sitting in judgment.

Driving early on his first ball, Kaif was lucky that the shot fell short of Mills. In Scott Styris’ first over, he was again committed to the drive but it didn’t carry to Fleming at short mid-on.

Between and after these ‘blemishes’, Kaif played responsibly making capital of the opportunity to go at No 3. He raced between the wickets and was involved in the two biggest partnerships (with Dravid and Laxman) but neither was significantly long.

Till Daniel Vettori dismissed both Dravid and Yuvraj Singh in the 31st over, India were in control. The young dazzler did exactly what he wasn’t supposed to do - trying to attack Vettori too soon - and was out three balls after he came in.

It is debatable whether Mills completed the catch properly but such lack of discretion isn’t befitting of someone touted as a middle-order mainstay.

Kaif and Badani began rebuilding but again a wicket fell too soon. This time it was Kaif, playing-on after a workmanlike 64. Man of the Match here in December 2000 when India beat Zimbabwe, Badani blazed into gear but he too didn’t stay long enough.

Scorecard

First Published: Nov 06, 2003 14:35 IST