| Paul Hitchcock (left) and Lou Vincent celebrate the former’s catch dismissing Ajit Agarkar in Christchurch Wednesday. (Reuters)
Christchurch: The New Year brought no change to the fast plummeting fortunes of the struggling Indian team.
Its batsmen floundered again on a seamer-friendly wicket, losing the third successive one-dayer to New Zealand on Wednesday.
In a re-run of their embarrassing batting in the two Tests and the first two one-dayers, all of which they lost, the Indians were shot out for 108, a target the home team easily surpassed with the loss of just five wickets.
Four more one-dayers remain but the visitors already seem to have given up. Sachin Tendulkar missed out again due to injury, but the performance of the other Indian batsmen would have really dented their morale ahead of next month’s World Cup.
The visitors were bundled out within their quota of 50 overs for the third successive time.
Skipper Sourav Ganguly made a seemingly bold decision by opting to bat first on a wicket that looked quite conducive to seam bowling.
But his plans came unstuck when his batsmen returned to the pavilion without making much impression.
The plight of the Indians could be gauged from the fact that the 22 extras made the highest contribution to the score sheet.
Rahul Dravid came near, with 20, while Mohammed Kaif managed 17 as only four batsmen could get into the double figures.
The captain himself once again struggled to put bat to ball, except for the edges, and was out for four, becoming one of wicketkeeper Brendan McCullam’s five victims of the day.
Even as the Indians were at their wits end against the seaming ball, the New Zealand batsmen hardly had any problems even though they lost five important wickets on their way to victory.
Captain Stephen Fleming continued his miserable run and was out for four, but Nathan Astle hit a blazing 32 that put the Black Caps in a very comfortable position.
Astle completely unsettled Jawagal Srinath, hitting him for five boundaries in the fifth over of the innings which produced 22 runs.
Except for a brief period when Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar created some problems for the batsmen, after the fall of the first two wickets, the hosts’ never looked uncomfortable.
Agarkar, playing his first one-dayer on the tour, bowled a probing line and was able to dismiss three key New Zealand batsmen but the Indian total was never threatening.
Jacob Oram and McCullam saw their side past the target, remaining unbeaten on 10 each.
The Indians were expecting a repeat performance from Virender Sehwag, who had hit a brilliant century in the last match. But the dashing opener was repeatedly beaten outside the off-stump on Wednesday before edging a wide delivery from Kyle Mills while attempting a cut shot.
V.V.S Laxman, the only player in this team to have missed out on a berth in the World Cup, got another opportunity to play due to the unavailability of Tendulkar.
But his pathetic form continued and he was out after making ten during a painful stay at the wicket.
Dravid and Kaif, who was promoted ahead of Yuvraj Singh, put on the innings’ best partnership of 29 taking India past the 50-run mark in the 22nd over.
Dravid fell to a brilliant catch by Daniel Vettori when he top-edged an intended pull shot against Paul Hitchcock in a bid to step up the scoring.
Kaif was out 15 runs later, dashing virtually all hopes of a decent total.
Yuvraj hung in for some time, making a laborious 12 before being run out.
The rest of the batsmen did not have much to offer and India just about avoided being shot out for their lowest-ever score against New Zealand, managing to equal the 108 they had scored in the first game of this series in Auckland.
Unlike in Auckland, though, where they had reduced the hosts to 52 for six, the Indians failed to take the early wickets in Christchurch.
Matthew Sinclair, top-scorer in the previous game in Napier, was out for nought on Wednesday, caught and bowled by Agarkar.
Astle was also out soon thereafter, skying a catch to Sourav off Srinath but Craig McMillan and Lou Vincent took their team to within 25 runs of the target.
Though both the batsmen fell to Agarkar within nine runs of each other, New Zealand cantered to victory in just 26.5 overs.
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