A Rohit Sharma half-century full of edges and graceful shots in equal measure anchored a fledgling innings, but it was a 127-run finishing stand between MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja that undid – to an extent – the incredibly disciplined spells from Kyle Mills and Tim Southee, who went for 78 in their 20 overs for three wickets. A hundred of those 127 came in the last 10. The sweetest of the three fifties was that of Jadeja, involving few low-percentage shots or edges. India needed the best from the lower middle order after they dropped Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, and saw Virat Kohli fail as opener. This might have been the lowest total of the series, but it came on a pitch whose slowness made timing shots difficult.
If Raina’s axing was overdue, Dhawan’s was a surprise. Raina got 30 innings without a fifty against sides other than Zimbabwe or an Associate, Dhawan had gone nine. His regular opening partner, Rohit Sharma, enjoyed the other kind of drop – by Ross Taylor at slip – otherwise India would have been looking at a pretty dire situation. Kohli had already been suffocated by Southee and Mills into top-edging the first short ball tried. Had Rohit not been missed when edged Southee through on 14 off 27 – India were to lose Ajinkya Rahane to another wisely delivered short delivery in the next over – Dhoni would have been looking at a long period of recovery.+
Even Rohit had now started to look comfortable. Not many batsmen can look as ungainly and as majestic in the same innings as often as Rohit does. The ungainly had now begun to give way to the majestic with sixes beginning to flow effortlessly. Just then, though, his luck ran out and he nicked Kane Williamson down the leg side for 79 off 94, his acceleration left incomplete. Of all the bowlers. Of all the balls.
India lost No. 6 R Ashwin soon to make it 151 for 5 in the 34th over, and could still end up not using all their overs. They needed a calculated finish. They needed Dhoni. Dhoni took it upon himself to not lose a wicket in the Powerplay. It didn’t matter that only 24 came in those five overs. Dhoni knew he could make up for it later. Dhoni also knew Jadeja at the other end was in the batting form of his life.
Instead, the recovery came down to Rohit and Rayudu, both of whom rode their luck a bit. Rohit, who had been 5 off 20 at one stage, had to play some desperate shots, but somehow managed to keep avoiding fielders. By the time Rayudu top-edged the profligate Hamish Bennett in the 26th over, India had given themselves some sort of a platform.
Until the 45th over, Dhoni even kept handing over the strike to Jadeja, who effortlessly kept picking a boundary every over. Be it the cut in front of square, the swat over midwicket, or over the muscled drive straight down the ground, Jadeja kept timing everything.
New Zealand’s selection choices didn’t prove to be golden either. They brought James Neesham in for Corey Anderson, and Mills replaced Mitchell McClenaghan and not Bennett, who had impressed on the quick Auckland surface. Between them, Bennett and neeshan went for 126 in 17 overs, and made fielding errors too, adding to the hosts’ frustration towards the end. Dhoni and Jadeja were smart in targeting the two even as Mills bowled overs 43, 45, 47 and 49 for just 29 runs. Fifty-one came from the four overs bowled at the other end, including a last-ball six that took Dhoni’s strike rate past a run a ball, only marginally behind Jadeja.