WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — India sounded an emphatic warning to rivals at this year’s cricket World Cup when it completed a 4-1 series win over New Zealand Feb. 3, taking the final one-day international by 35 runs.
Coming into the series, India was second behind England in ODI world rankings and only eight points ahead of New Zealand which was third and had just completed an impressive 3-0 sweep of Sri Lanka.
India’s convincing series victory away from home suggested it will mount a formidable World Cup challenge in England in the middle of the year. On Sunday it demonstrated resilience and versatility in rallying from 18-4 to reach 252, using up all but one ball of its 50 overs. It then bowled out New Zealand for 217 with 35 balls remaining.
Stung by an eight-wicket defeat in the fourth match of the series when it was dismissed for 92 in the face of superb swing bowling by New Zealand’s Trent Boult, who took 5-21, India made the decision to expose itself to the same challenge.
Stand-in captain Rohit Sharma said India regarded its loss in Hamilton Jan. 31 as a humiliation, and he chose to bat on winning the toss to challenge India’s batsmen to demonstrate skill against the swinging ball.
The new ball did swing and Boult shared four wickets with his new ball partner Matt Henry as India slumped to 18-4 in the 10th over, raising the possibility of a second consecutive rout. The victims of the early onslaught included Sharma who was out for 2, Shikhar Dhawan who fell for 6 and M.S. Dhoni who was brilliantly bowled by Boult for 1 with a ball that angled in then straightened past the outside edge.
Ambati Rayudu rebuilt the innings with 90 from 113 balls that embraced partnerships of 98 for the fifth wicket with Vijay Shankar (45) and 74 for the sixth with Kedar Jadhav (34).
India’s total was boosted by a brilliant late innings of 45 from 22 balls by Hardik Pandya, which included five sixes — three from consecutive balls from the leg-spinner Todd Astle.
While it scored the bulk of its runs in the second half of its innings, lifting itself from 22-4 after 10 overs to 88-4 at the midpoint of its innings, then to 168-5 with 10 overs remaining, it showed the ability to endure against the early threat of swing.
Conditions in New Zealand in February may approximate those India will encounter in England in June when the ball will swing and pitches might be holding or variable in pace.
“I think especially after the Hamilton loss ... we needed to come together as a team and we came together as a team right from ball one,” Sharma said. “After losing those four early wickets all we needed was somebody to apply, someone to take the game on and Rayudu and Shankar did that pretty well. That partnership I think was the turning point and the way Hardik and Kedar (Jadhav) played at the end was magnficent.”
India then showed the ability to tenaciously defend a moderate total. Its 252 was not out of the reach of New Zealand but it bowled with a relentless accuracy that strangled New Zealand’s run-scoring.
Denied width, too many New Zealand batsmen played across the line and were deceived by pace or bounce.
As the World Cup approaches, New Zealand faces a major problem at the top of the order where Martin Guptill and Colin Munro are not regularly producing runs, though both are capable of big innings. Guptill missed Sunday’s match with a back injury while Munro was out for 24, his highest score of the series.
Kane Williamson with 39 and Tom Latham with 37 generated runs in the middle of the order but the all-rounders remain inconsistent.
Jimmy Neesham made 44 before being run out by wicketkeeper M.S. Dhoni but gave up 33 runs from five overs. Mitchell Santner, with Ish Sodhi one of New Zealand’s two main spin options, made 22 but took 0-18 from three overs and Colin de Grandhomme made 11 and took 0-33.