Cricket: Indians reveal their true quality

By David Leggat

India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has talked of each match on their New Zealand tour being "a learning lab" for his young players.

But it was New Zealand who had lessons to absorb after being cleaned out by 53 runs in their opening ODI at McLean Park last night.

And the reality of this match was worse than that Duckworth-Lewis rejigged margin would suggest.

India crashed a formidable 273 for four in 38 overs and New Zealand - initially needing 278 under the first-rain recalculations - ended 162 for nine off 28 overs, losing four wickets in five balls to hasten the end.

The game was long gone by then but it was still an embarrassing conclusion. Remember New Zealand's 2-0 Twenty20 series win? Didn't think so.

It was a messy day. Two breaks for rain initially reduced the game to 38 overs, then left New Zealand, at 111 for four, requiring the small matter of 105 in 7.1 overs once further calculations were figured out.

But three wickets in one Harbhajan Singh over, and another to the first ball of Zaheer Khan's next had the Indians rejoicing.

A 2h 20min stoppage early in India's innings ruined hopes of a full contest to start the five-game series. New Zealand's bowlers might have wished for the rain to continue had they known what lay ahead.

Led by dashing opener Virendar Sehwag's 77 off 56 balls, India's batsmen must have had New Zealand captain Dan Vettori muttering dark thoughts about his bowlers.

His plea to his bowlers a day earlier was that as long as they bowled tidy lines, he'd live with whatever India's batting wizards did.

He was badly let down by a motley concoction of deliveries either short and wide or knee-high full tosses. Sehwag has plundered far better bowling attacks than he was facing last night. But his departure didn't end the punishment.

"From the start we didn't allow ourselves to get into the game and put so much pressure on the batsmen to chase a really tough total," Vettori said last night.

Dhoni pushed himself up to No 3 and kept the momentum going with a forceful, thoughtful unbeaten 84.

His support act, Suresh Raina, produced a slashing 66 from only 39 balls as he helped himself to an assortment of pies, along with producing some moments of brilliance.

The Indians didn't bother much with footwork and on other days on this tour when the ball is darting about they might have some problems. But not on McLean Park, the batsman's friend.

Theirs was a stand and deliver method for much of the innings. It is spectacular but can be risky. But New Zealand's waywardness didn't give the hosts a chance of keeping a rein on the run rate.

Sehwag could have been out in the eighth over. Sprinting to the danger end for a quick single, he was tripped by bowler Iain O'Brien pursuing the ball.

With Sehwag sprawling, O'Brien flung the ball at the stumps, and missed. That enabled Vettori to dodge a bullet. Had it hit, he would have either had to withdraw any appeal, or let the cards fall as they may.

Remembering New Zealand's fury at the Oval last year when Grant Elliott was dismissed in a similar situation by England, Vettori may have felt his hand forced.

Only Vettori - his figures puffed out by 10 off his last two deliveries - and Ian Butler were really on the job.

Kyle Mills had his worst night in a while, seven overs costing 69.

Early wickets set New Zealand back and although Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor put on a brisk 58 there was not a single boundary from the 14th to the 24th overs.

India's bowlers were far tighter and smarter than their counterparts, and the outcome was obvious well before the last recalculation pushed the challenge way beyond reach.

- NZ Herald

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