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India vs New Zealand: After 36 winless days, Kiwis take flight

In what had been another miserable chapter on a nightmarish tour, Martin Guptill had his stumps splayed by Umesh Yadav on the second ball of the day. Guptill had strode forward to defend a length ball, playing for the line, but it pitched and shaped away just enough to knock back his off-stump. He didn’t even bother to turn around and survey the destruction. For the next 538 balls, Guptill had little role to play in the match. Then, in the 40th over of India’s tense chase, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, in an inspired move, summoned him to roll his arm over. The gambit was risky, but it helped that there was that extra fielder in the deep. Moreover, the hosts had just lost their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was caught by Tim Southee in a most spectacular fashion. Dhoni had driven Southee back, albeit uppishly, and the strapping fast bowler had plucked a sharp, ankle high reflex catch while still in his follow through. Needing 243 to win, India were 172/6 with their best finisher back in the pavilion. Coming from around the wicket to Axar Patel, Guptill ambled in and sent down a lazy loppy delivery that was directed wide down the leg side. 64 off 60 balls. Next ball, another wide down leg. 63 off 60. Next ball, a full toss. Patel’s eyes must have widened. He took a swipe. He could have hit it anywhere, but found Mitchell Santner at long-on. Guptill would send down two more wides, but would also account for Amit Mishra who attempted another ill-advised shot, an outrageous slog-sweep, and the top edge was gleefully accepted at short fine leg. “This was one game when we kept losing wickets,” Dhoni would later say. “That was something that hurt us. It wasn’t the run rate which pushed us to play big shots. It’s a day when any of the batsmen could go on and say that we could have seen it through.” Hardik Pandya and Umesh Yadav nearly did, taking India tantalisingly close with a 49-run ninth wicket stand. But Pandya top-edged a tennis forehand top-spinner aimed at the sightscreen on the penultimate ball off Boult’s 49th over. As the crowd went silent, India were just a wicket away from defeat. If they wished to turn the tables, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh needed to score 10 from the final over. Tim Southee, who had been bowled by a Bumrah yorker earlier in the day, paid the latter back in the same coin to give New Zealand their first victory of the tour. At the half-stage, it had looked like India had restricted New Zealand to a below par score, despite Kane Williamson’s century. However, the visitors had hope. This wasn’t a flat surface. “The wicket wasn’t easy to increase the scoring rate, at the halfway stage we were a few off where we wanted to be, a lot of credit to the way we bowled, to create pressure on that surface was key. Trent Boult was outstanding,” Williamson said after the match. The left-arm pacer had on Wednesday exhorted his batsmen to put up some runs on the board. It was less than what Boult would have hoped for when Williamson and Tom Latham were batting, but there was still something to bowl at. He gave New Zealand the perfect start, inducing an edge off Rohit Sharma’s bat towards the end of a tight first spell. Some questionable shot selection (Virat Kohli) and spectacular fielding (Ajinkya Rahane and Manish Pandey) saw India reduced to 73/4. Kedar Jadhav and Dhoni put a brisk 56-run partnership, but it was all over after THAT Southee catch and THAT Guptill over.

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