Wellington: India finally tasted victory after six successive defeats, hanging on grimly to score a thrilling two-wicket win in the fifth one-dayer against New Zealand here on Wednesday.
Despite another patchy display by most of their batsmen, the visitors got the better of the New Zealanders on another bowler-friendly wicket, largely due to an allround display by Man of the Match Zaheer Khan. He received good support from Yuvraj Singh, who top scored with 54, and Virender Sehwag who made a characteristic 45 off 40 balls.
Rocked by a fiery opening spell by Zaheer, who took three for 30, New Zealand recovered from a shaky 51 for five to reach a decent 168 in 42.4 overs.
A brave gamble by out-of-form skipper Sourav Ganguly to open the innings failed as he chased a wide delivery to make a first-ball duck. Dinesh Mongia failed again, making just 2.
Sachin Tendulkar, having missed the first four one-dayers due to injury, walked to the wicket amid high expectations and played coolly for 10 deliveries before being given out leg before by New Zealand umpire Brent Bowden. It was a horrendous decision.
He had not opened his account when he played on to his pads to a ball well outside the off-stump.
Sehwag’s characteristic belligerent knock of 45 from 40 balls had seen India recover from the early jolts. But the tourists made a mess of what looked a comfortable chase and were in danger of losing their seventh match in a row when Anil Kumble fell in the 30th over.
But Yuvraj and Zaheer batted sensibly in the most fruitful partnership of the innings to bring the side close to victory.
With just nine runs required to win, Yuvraj, who struck eight fours in his 85-ball knock, was out to an unnecessary shot to once again plunge the team into a crisis.
But Zaheer, who was batting on 26 at that time, kept calm and, with Jawagal Srinath, guided India past the target in 43.2 overs. Zaheer hit three fours and a six in his 42-ball innings.
Earlier, the Indians found themselves in deep trouble when Sourav, Mongia and Tendulkar returned to the pavilion with just 25 runs on the board.
But Sehwag belted nine boundaries to neutralise the gains made by the New Zealand bowlers. He hit Andre Adams for three fours in the ninth over to see India cross the 50-run mark.
Sehwag raced into his forties before edging a Scott Styris delivery to captain Stephen Fleming in the slips. Rahul Dravid scored seven from 41 deliveries while Mohammed Kaif was out in a familiar fashion, caught in the slips, for just two to derail the Indian innings.
Earlier, the Black Caps also found themselves in a similar soup, losing their first three wickets to Zaheer with just three runs on the board. In a bid to give his players more batting practice, Fleming decided to bat first on winning the toss despite the wicket promising a lot of seam movement.
The move backfired as Zaheer bowled a fiery opening spell to give India a sensational start. He claimed Nathan Astle (0), Matthew Sinclair (1) and comeback man Chris Harris (1) in his first ten deliveries to force them on the backfoot.
Cairns, returing to international cricket after an eight-month lay-off due to injury, was jittery in his early part of the innings and survived some anxious moments before settling down to play some glorious shots.
Srinath broke through the defences of Cairns in his second spell. Cairns made 25 off 32 balls with three fours.
Fleming fell soon after, edging an Ashish Nehra delivery to wicketkeeper Dravid.
Scott Styris and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum put on 41 for the fifth wicket before Nehra claimed his second. Styris, who was hit on his fingers by a rising Sourav delivery, played on to his stumps after making 13.
But the best of New Zealand batting was yet to come. McCullam played a gritty knock while Andre Adams displayed flamboyance, contributing 35 runs each to the home total.