Mohali: Virat Kohli produced another breathtaking effort as his superbly crafted unbeaten 154 enabled India to cruise to an easy seven-wicket victory in the third ODI against New Zealand, at the PCA Stadium, in Mohali, on Sunday.
India thus lead the five-match series 2-1. Kohli's 134-ball knock was ably complemented by an under-pressure skipper Dhoni (80 off 91) as the duo forged a 151-run partnership off 163 balls to effectively seal the match with 10 balls to spare after the home team made a shaky start in their pursuit of 286.
Dhoni for one, promoted himself up the order after much deliberation and it did yield results.
The visitors had earlier suffered a batting collapse before Jimmy Neesham (57) and Matt Henry (39*) came up with an 84-run stand for the ninth wicket to take their side to a competitive total.
Eventually, it was India's No 1 batsman Kohli, who got the job done with ridiculous ease. He is amassing hundreds at a staggering rate and Sunday’s century was his 26th one in ODIs. He has now scored three hundreds in his last seven ODI innings and has a batting average of 52 plus in 174 matches. He hit 16 boundaries and a six.
India's batting mainstay also had luck on their side, as he was dropped on 6 by Ross Taylor, who could not hold on to a regulation catch standing at a wide slip off Henry’s bowling.
Dhoni made good use of his feet, both to the pacers and spinners. His first boundary was a pull off Tim Southee before smashing left-arm spinner Santer for a straight six to cross the 9000 run mark. Dhoni ended up with six fours and three sixes.
Kohli was all class from the word go. After getting a reprieve from Taylor, he was unstoppable. It was only fitting that he stayed unbeaten till the end. He ended the game in exhilarating fashion, punishing Trent Boult for three fours and a six in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the game.
Pandey too remained unbeaten on 24 and hit the winning boundary. The duo shared a 97-run stand for the fourth wicket.
Earlier, Neesham and Henry shared an 84-run stand for the ninth wicket to help New Zealand post 285 after Indian spinners reduced the visitors to 199.
New Zealand were set for their first 300 plus total of the series after Tom Latham (61) and Taylor (44) laid the foundation with a solid 73-run stand for the third wicket.
Taylor's dismissal led to a flurry of wickets though New Zealand still managed to reach close to the 300 milestone, thanks to a valiant partnership between Neesham (57 off 47) and Henry (39 no off 37).
It seemed New Zealand would not last even 40 overs after slumping from a promising 152 for two, before Neesham and Matt Henry brought the game alive.
For India, Amit Mishra and Kedar Jadhav were among the wickets again, taking two and three respectively. Pacer Umesh Yadav scalped three wickets as well but proved expensive, giving away 75 runs in 10 overs.
After losing their seventh straight toss on the tour, New Zealand were expectedly put in to bat by India captain Dhoni considering the dew factor.
With the ball coming nicely on to the bat, New Zealand were off to their best start of the series coasting to 64 for one in 10 overs.
If the visitors were to pose a challenging total for the hosts, it was imperative that their senior batsmen, opener Martin Guptill (27) and Taylor, struck some form.
Guptill, who had 171 runs in eight innings on this tour prior to Sunday, began on a promising note. He hit Umesh Yadav on the up for a cracking four through point before dispatching Hardik Pandya for a comfortable six over long on. The opener followed it up with another straight six over extra cover and a slash through point in Pandya's subsequent over.
The in-form Latham was batting patiently at the other end. He got into the act by pulling Yadav for a six. And just when it seemed Guptill was set to end his barren run, Yadav trapped him in front of the stumps with a fuller length ball that moved in sharply.
Skipper Kane Williamson (22) joined Latham in the middle and got off the mark with a gentle push past mid-on.
High on confidence after scoring a fluent hundred in Delhi, Williamson looked in fine form until he failed to spot a straighter one off part-time spinner Jadhav to leave his team at 80 for two in 13 overs.
Dhoni brought him ahead of specialist spinners and he was quick to repay his captain's faith, just like he did in the earlier games.
New Zealand needed a partnership to get going again. That was when Latham and Taylor stitched a solid 73-run stand to steady the innings.
With the pitch playing true and Taylor getting back among runs, first 300 plus score of the series was a straight forward task.
In Indian conditions, when Taylor gets cut shots right, one knows he is feeling good about his game. That is what happened on Sunday, as he slashed and swept smoothly to go with a few lusty hits.
However, he too could not go on to make his first half century of the tour after getting deceived by a beauty from Mishra. The leggie got one to drift in and turn away to have Taylor stumped. That wicket triggered a middle-order collapse for the second game in row and New Zealand found themselves reeling at 180 for 7 from a promising 151 for 2.
Mishra and Jadhav did the bulk of the damage as New Zealand's hopes of a formidable total were dashed in quick time. Jadhav ended with figures of 3 for 29 in five overs while Mishra conceded 46 runs and took couple of wickets in 10 overs....