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By Chetan Narula
Hamilton: Jan 27, 2014
Having snatched a thrilling tie from the jaws of defeat in the last game, India would look to build on their new-found momentum and aim for their first win of the tour in order to keep the contest alive when they take on New Zealand in the fourth One-Day International (ODI) at Hamilton on Tuesday.
The series stands at 2-0 in favour of New Zealand after India lost the first two ODIs in Napier (by 24 runs) and Hamilton (by 15 runs), while the third ODI at Auckland finished in a scintillating last-ball tie on Saturday.
Even though India cannot win the series anymore, the visitors at least can level the rubber and keep their world number one ranking intact, but for that to happen they need to win Tuesday’s match at Seddon Park as well as the fifth ODI at Wellington.
India’s bowling in favourable New Zealand conditions has been a big let down for the team, but the fighting spirit and resilience of Indian batsmen took the first two ODIs close and tied the third to keep the series alive.
India, however, can take heart from its performance in the third ODI. Chasing an imposing 315, Ravindra Jadeja nearly pulled off a sensational win before the contest ended in a tie.
Jadeja smacked the Kiwi bowlers to all parts of the ground to score an unbeaten 45-ball 66 to take India close in the third ODI from a no-hope position. He was ably supported by Ravichandran Ashwin who scored a quickfire 65 off 46 balls.
Interestingly, one of the key features of this series so far has been the fact that India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has won the toss and opted to chase in all three previous games.
It is a practice that runs long back. In South Africa, Dhoni won the toss in the first two ODIs at Johannesburg and Durban, and elected to chase, thereafter losing both matches.
At home prior, in two ODIs versus Australia (Ranchi and Nagpur) and one against West Indies (Kanpur), Dhoni did the same.
The last time India batted first after winning the toss was in January 2013, against England at Kochi. In 18 ODIs since then, home or away, the Men in Blue have always preferred to chase down targets after winning the toss.
The last time India batted first abroad, after winning the toss, was against Sri Lanka at Pallekele, all the way back in August 2012.
If the sub-continent is taken out of this consideration, then the last occasion of India batting first after winning the toss was against South Africa in Johannesburg on January 15, 2011, a full three years ago.
It clearly shows that there is a high propensity for the Men in Blue to field first.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has preferred to bat first and come Tuesday, the script will be more or less similar on a pitch that will be slow and become slower in the second innings.
Taking that into consideration, New Zealand will definitely want to bat first and once again post a big total on the board for the Indians to chase.
India too didn’t give any indication that they will change their plan of chasing despite the slowness of the Hamilton pitch.
It seems the Indian think-tank believes that the pressure of a run-chase is more bearable which was clearly evident from vice-captain Virat Kohli‘s statement after the first ODI at Napier.
“Chasing allows breaking down of targets and calculations over a period of time and overs,” Kohli had said then.
There is evidence to support this theory. If that January 2011 date is taken as a marker, then until the tied ODI at Auckland, India have played 30 ODIs (across all venues) in which they have opted to field first after winning the toss and earned victorious in 18 (one no-result) of these matches.
It is no secret that the Indian batting — on whose prowess this chase-theory is based — has not fired in unison in this series so far.
The openers have squandered their starts, particularly Rohit Sharma in the last two ODIs at Hamilton and Auckland.
Ajinkya Rahane is still trying to find his feet at number four position, while Suresh Raina’s compulsive pulling — a shot he is not very good at — is proving to be his downfall.
Kohli and Dhoni are the only ones among runs, but their ability to chase down targets is hit by the batting line-up’s inconsistency.
Even so, the three ODIs here in New Zealand have been too close to call. At Napier, India fell short by only 19 runs, when Kohli, Dhoni and Jadeja fell in quick succession. At Hamilton, if the D/L method is negated for a moment, the misfiring Indian batting did conquer the Black Caps’ total of 271/1 by six runs, finishing at 277/9 with three balls to spare. And in the last game, the Indians did score 314 for nine in a start-stop stuttering fashion.
But as Dhoni pointed out later, the important thing is that the Men in Blue are still alive in this series.
This alone should be a worrisome point for New Zealand.
Brendon McCullum hasn’t been forced to make a decision at the toss, and his side has become increasingly comfortable with their well-rehearsed tactic of batting first, saving wickets in the first 30 overs and then going all out in the death with wickets in hand.
But this ploy back-fired at Eden Park, almost, as Corey Anderson was dismissed cheaply for the first time in three matches.
The thing which would definitely bother the Kiwis is that that they failed to close out the third ODI after reducing India to 146 for five at one stage.
At Auckland, for the first time in the series, the Black Caps let go off an opportunity and India pounced on it.
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