Cuttack: The message is loud and clear: an SOS for one Mr Sourav Ganguly.
A thoroughly professional show by the Black Caps outdid Indiaís meagre resistance at the Barabati Stadium on Thursday night. The visitors had planned their innings, were undaunted by the flurry of early wickets and sealed the victory with a cool and confident approach.
Rahul Dravid could have used his part-time bowlers much earlier and prevented Hemang Badani and Yuvraj Singh from going through the motions in the slog overs. The fielding too looked patchy. The body language of the players was most distressing once New Zealand neared the target ó shoulders drooping, no one around to infuse a fresh dose of enthusiasm. The stand-in skipper seemed overburdened by the responsibilities.
New Zealandís four-wicket victory means the equations have been thrown wide open in the TVS Cup. India and New Zealand are tied on nine points each while Australia lead the standings with 18. All teams have two matches left.
The excessive dew, however, posed a challenge to the Indian bowlers. They could not grip the ball properly and it had to be changed on a few occasions.
The full house vented their ire by throwing water bottles on to the field but thankfully it did not take alarming proportions.
New Zealand will rue having been on the wrong side of the umpiresí verdict on Thursday. Chris Harris and Lou Vincent can consider themselves unlucky to be adjudged leg before by umpire Neil Mallender. The Indians too, had their share of misfortune earlier, Sachin Tendulkar being at the receiving end.
The 128-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Man-of-the-Match Scott Styris (68) and Craig McMillan set up the chase as the Indians lost way. They milked the spinners dry with intelligent use of the feet, tackled the pacers with aplomb while never letting the run rate slow down.
McMillan (82 not out) has been in superb touch on this tour and maintained the good show with another innings that kept their chances alive in the tournament. Once Stephen Fleming had set the ball rolling with a hurricane 24 off 14 balls, the pair ensured the initiative was not lost.
The bowling lacked discipline and direction. Murali Kartik and Sairaj Bahutule will be keen to forget their comeback efforts in a hurry. Zaheer Khan wasnít impressive and Anil Kumbleís absence was palpable.
If New Zealand had harboured hopes of restricting India around the 225-run mark, Zaheer upset their calculations with some lusty hitting in the final over of the innings.
Twenty runs came off it, the last three balls producing 16, as Jacob Oramís figures went haywire. It helped India set up the target after a none-too-unfamiliar mid-innings collapse that saw Daryl Tuffey grab three quick wickets in his four-over final spell.
The pitch was low and slow and Tuffey along with Styris utilised the conditions to great effect. They were not trying something flashy, simply sticking to the basics of line and length while varying the pace cleverly.
The wicketís slowness made strokeplay almost impossible. The ball was never rising above the waist and nudges and pushes, while waiting for loose deliveries, seemed to be the best bet.
Mohammed Kaif realised it early and concentrated on the singles and the twos. His 64 off 108 balls will put to rest doubts about his capabilities and temperament. The youngster battled immense pressure having failed to be among runs for quite sometime now. His presence at the crease also meant that the running between the wickets was swift and the Indians never lost the momentum in the mid-stages of the innings.
Having been thrust into the No. 3 position once Virender Sehwag was ruled out with a knee injury and V.V.S. Laxman opened the innings with Sachin, Kaif showed great concentration and application in going about his task. Sachinís early departure failed to have any impact on his performance.
The Master Blaster, after a promising start during which he slammed Kyle Mills for three boundaries, fell victim to a harsh leg before decision from umpire A.V. Jayaprakash. The ball was going down the leg side as Sachin seemed visibly surprised by the verdict.
Kaif excelled in the company of Laxman who had taken to his new role with customary grace. There were the delectable flicks and the square drives but it was slowness of the wicket that put paid his hopes in the 19th over.
Kaif and Rahul Dravid ó who could not conceal his glee after the coin fell in his favour ó added 59 runs for the third wicket with the stand-in skipper playing to the gaps and not attempting anything flashy. Flamboyance was uncalled for on this wicket as Yuvraj Singh realised after arriving at the crease.
Daniel Vettori had threatened to run through removing Dravid and Yuvraj in the same over but Hemang Badani, making a comeback, ensured he remained in the selectors minds for the tour Down Under.
The left-hander, who survived a brilliant effort by Stephen Fleming, hit 41 off 45 balls. There was very little support after Kaifís departure as the wickets kept tumbling at the other end.
Bahutule, who last played for India in the Dhaka Independence Cup in 1998, was preferred over Parthiv Patel but the Mumbai allrounderís batting efforts never flourished.