| Virender Sehwag celebrates after reaching his century in Hyderabad on Saturday. (AFP)
Hyderabad, Nov. 15: The Hyderabad blues returned to haunt New Zealand once again on Saturday as India hammered the visitors out of the competition en route to the TVS Cup tri-series final.
The same old Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium was the venue where Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had slaughtered the same opposition in 1999-2000 in an incredible total of 376 for two. The two were on song in Saturday’s do-or-die match too and one Virender Sehwag joined the firing squad to take India’s tally to 353 for five.
Such a total had never been surpassed in the history of ODIs and there was no rewriting history here. New Zealand started losing wickets from the second over and their feeble response ended after 47 overs with the total reading 208. India had won fair and square, by a whopping 145 runs.
The India openers had laid the platform for a big score and 300 always looked on the cards. The total assumed gigantic proportions after Dravid’s uncharacteristically hurricane knock. The vice-captain smashed an unbeaten 50 off 22 balls with five fours and three sixes in a late charge which produced 64 runs in the last five overs.
Dravid’s was the second fastest half-century in an ODI for India, after Ajit Agarkar’s 21-ball effort against Zimbabwe in Rajkot in 2000-01. The late explosion added spring to the steps of those swaying in the stands to the chartbusters being blasted away from loudspeakers between overs and after each boundary.
Sourav Ganguly had done a crucial job earlier by calling right and the New Zealand attack had little to do once they failed to secure an early breakthrough.
There was nothing in the pitch for their seamers apart from some ‘carry’ in the first few overs when the ball was new. It started losing shine from the eighth over when Man-of-the-Match Sehwag took three fours off Darryl Tuffey.
Tendulkar started firing after a cautious beginning. His first boundary came after 21 balls and after that, they kept coming. It was bold hitting and not always beautiful. The trademark punches through covers off the backfoot were rare and on offer were some ferocious cuts and bludgeoning hits over the infield.
Power, not finesse, was the hallmark of his 36th ODI century (and second of the on-going series), which came off 91 balls and contained 12 fours and a six. The first wicket stand was worth 182, from 181 balls.
By then, the fate of the match was well and truly sealed. The Mumbai run machine did show signs of returning to form in the rain-ruined opening ODI in Chennai after a moderate run in the Test series. He has gone from strength to strength since and his tally in the tri-series after six outings reads 421.
It was essential to maintain the momentum after Tendulkar’s dismissal. With Sehwag also nearing his century, Sourav took it upon himself. The skipper was looking to be unorthodox from the onset and had hit 33 off 31 balls before a groin strain disrupted his rhythm. Tendulkar returned to the middle as Sourav’s runner but the left-hander fell shortly.
Sourav didn’t take to the field after this and Dravid was in charge during the New Zealand innings. “It’s not very serious. I strained the groin while taking off for a run. I will have to wait till the day of the final to confirm whether I will be able to play,” a limping Sourav told The Telegraph later.
Sehwag took over at this stage. The Delhi dynamite exploded at the right time and returned to form en route a career-best 130. The feature of his sixth ODI century was the way he paced his innings. Attacking the New Zealand bowlers in the start, Sehwag abstained from further aggression once Tendulkar cut loose. He took over for a brief period after Sourav’s departure and started pounding the New Zealand attack. This was also a powerful effort, devoid of frills, as was the order of the day. His runs came off 134 balls and contained 15 fours and two sixes.
The Indian progress was halted a bit at this stage following the quick dismissals of Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and V.V.S. Laxman. It seemed as if 325 would be what India will settle for, but Dravid added that unexpected twist to the tale.
The New Zealand bowlers had practically nothing to do after they failed to get an early wicket. There was no movement in the air to trouble the Indians. To make matters worse, the visitors frequently bowled the wrong length.
Tuffey and Kyle Mills bowled a tight line initially and rarely allowed room to Tendulkar and Sehwag. But they made the cardinal mistake of bowling short to two batsmen, who are strong square off the wicket. That is the area where the bulk of runs came from during the first wicket stand.
Sourav said after the match that the team needed to work on “certain areas” before the final on Tuesday. “We need to improve our bowling in the first 15 overs. We know Australia will come hard at us during that stage and we have to work on how to get early breakthroughs,” the skipper said.
“We lost two matches to Australia and won one but before the final it will be all square.
“The openers set it up beautifully for us. Once we had 350 on the board, we’re confident of making it. Winning the toss was also vital,” Sourav added.