| Man-of-the-Match Jacob Oram celebrates one of his five wickets at the Eden Park in Auckland Thursday. (AFP)
Auckland: India’s batting woes continued as the struggling side went down by three wickets to New Zealand in the first one-dayer here Thursday in a low-scoring but gripping match on yet another seamer-friendly wicket.
Playing without Sachin Tendulkar, the Indians were shot out for a mere 108, their lowest-ever score against the Black Caps, after being put in to bat. Opener Shiv Sundar Das, who was virtually taken off a home-bound flight, top scored with 30. Seamer Jacob Oram ripped through the Indian batting with five for 26.
The Indian bowlers, who did very well in both the Tests that India lost prior to this seven-match one-day series, struck back reducing New Zealand to 52 for six at one stage. The home side hung on grimly thereafter to win with 12.2 overs to spare.
Oram showed his prowess with the bat too, defying a charged-up Indian attack for nearly one-and-a-half hours to carve out a gritty 27 not out and anchor his side to victory, just as he had done in the second Test in Hamilton. The effort won him the Man of the Match award.
The result negated a highly inspiring bowling performance by Jawagal Srinath, coming into the team after being “rested” for the Test series, whose four-wicket haul was the main reason why India could stage a fightback.
But even as the bowlers delivered, the batsmen were found wanting yet again in their effort and application. The pitch, even though helpful to the seam bowlers, was nowhere as bad as the ones used for the Test matches but the Indians caved in to a disciplined bowling performance by the New Zealanders.
Apart from Das, only Rahul Dravid could reach the 20s. The Indian vice-captain, the only saving grace for Indian batting on this tour, was once again left waging a lone battle in the company of tailenders. He was the last man out, caught brilliantly by Daniel Vettori at mid on while attempting to clear the in-field, after making exactly 20.
Das, who was asked to stay back after injuries to three players, was the surprise top-scorer. The man who was not even considered fit enough to play in the Test series for which he was on the tour, suddenly found himself being asked to open in the one-dayer which he had not played for over a year.
Playing in just his fourth match, his previous three innings against South Africa having produced a total of just nine runs, Das tried to make maximum use of this opportunity after receiving a life from Shane Bond who clean bowled him off a no-ball.
He hit a couple of good shots, including a four and a six against Daryl Tuffey in one over, to add 35 runs for the third wicket with skipper Sourav Ganguly after India had lost their first two wickets for 28 runs.
But just when the two were looking to stabilise the Indian innings, Das chased a wide delivery from Mills and gave a regulation catch to Stephen Fleming in the slips to bring an end to his 70-ball innings that included two fours and a six.
The dismissal of Das triggered a middle-order collapse that saw India lose six wickets for the addition of just 11 runs. From a comfortable 63 for two, India slipped to 74 for eight.
Dravid and Zaheer Khan, who made 14, put on 34 runs to take India past the 100-run mark before Vettori got the opportunity to bowl for the first time against the visitors. The left-arm spinner, who did not get a single over in the two Tests, struck in the only over he bowled trapping Zaheer leg before wicket.
When Dravid was out in the next over, India had been dismissed for their lowest-ever score against New Zealand, falling five runs short of the 113 they had managed against them in Perth in 1985-86. The Indians had also scored 112 for nine against New Zealand in a 34-over-a-side match in Melbourne in 1980-81.
New Zealand also lost an early wicket, with Srinath sending back Nathan Astle for nought in the very first over.
After the break, which was taken with New Zealand placed at 29 for one, the Indians came roaring back into the match with the quick dismissals of Fleming and Matthew Sinclair. Fleming was trapped leg before by Nehra for 12 while Sinclair was brilliantly caught by Sourav in the covers off Zaheer for 15. New Zealand suddenly slipped to 29 for three and were under pressure.
Craig McMillan and Lou Vincent put on 19 for the fourth wicket before the Indians managed three quick wickets to seize the initiative. At 52 for six in the 19th over, New Zealand were in deep trouble and India right on top.
All the three Indian pacers were bowling a fiery line and repeatedly went past the outside edge of the batsmen who could manage just six runs between the 20th and the 25th over. But Oram and Mills somehow managed to weather the storm and took the score to 86 in the 30th over before Srinath gave one last hope to the Indians.
After being hit for a boundary, Srinath had Mills caught behind for 21 to end his defiance but Oram held on to his wicket stubbornly in company of Vettori to take his side to safety and a 1-0 lead in the seven-match series. (PTI)