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Cricket news - Middle order fight helps India pip New Zealand

India clinched the series 4-1

In what turned out to be a contest between both teams' middle orders, the contributions of Ambati Rayudu (90), Hardik Pandya (45) and Vijay Shankar (45) turned out to be key as the visitors secured a 4-1 finish to the series after a 35-run victory in the fifth ODI in Wellington on Sunday (February 3). After being reduced to 18 for 4, India's middle order led a strong comeback as the visitors posted a total of 252. New Zealand also lost early wickets before a 67-run stand between Kane Williamson and Tom Latham steadied the chase. But the hosts lost quick wickets in the middle overs which meant that they failed to last the distance despite a counter-attacking 44 by James Neesham, being bowled out for 217.

As has been the case with India's bowling in the last eleven ODIs, they struck twice within the first powerplay to put New Zealand in a spot early in the chase. Henry Nicholls was late into a pull and handed Mohammed Shami his first wicket. Colin Munro, back in the eleven in place of an injured Martin Guptill, was living dangerously until he chopped on a Shami delivery. having managed only 38 in the first 10 overs, the situation became even grimmer when Ross Taylor was out leg-before off Pandya - his decision against opting the review proving to be a wrong call with replays revealing that the ball would have gone over the stumps.

With the Indian seamers - both the front-line and all-round options - keeping things tight, New Zealand weren't able to accelerate to their liking. But Kane Williamson and Tom Latham were up to the task in the game of patience, waiting for the loose ones while concentrating on strike rotation. It wasn't until the 19th over that India first introduced spin - in the form of Yuzvendra Chahal - by which time the New Zealand pair was settled and motored along without much fuss. The Williamson-Latham association set things up nicely for New Zealand before their struggles against spin resurfaced and left the hosts in a lot of trouble.

Williamson's promising innings was cut short at 39 when he pulled a Jadhav delivery straight to deep mid-wicket. Latham followed soon after, trapped in front by Chahal after missing a sweep, and the legspinner went on to dismiss Colin de Grandhomme to leave New Zealand six down for 135 in the 31st over. Neesham led a brilliant counter-offensive, sending the ball to all parts of the park as he tried to revive New Zealand's fortunes. However, a run-out ended his fighting essay at 44 off 32 and with that New Zealand's hopes as the tail caved in shortly afterwards.

Earlier, Rohit Sharma's decision to bat first in bowler-friendly conditions, notwithstanding a possible experiment, cost India early wickets. Rohit was bowled by a Henry delivery while Shikhar Dhawan couldn't clear the third-man fielder while attempting an upper cut off Boult as India lost two wickets inside the first six overs. MS Dhoni, returning to the eleven along with Vijay Shankar and Shami, arrived at the crease as early as the seventh over after Shubman Gill failed to keep a drive down off Henry. However, Dhoni's stay turned out to be a short one as well, cleaned up Boult shortly after surviving a leg-before review.

Shankar, who was batting for the first time in ODIs, endured a testing spell from Boult and Henry before it became slightly easier against the likes of James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme. Rayudu was taking his time, scoring at a strike rate of less than 20 for his first 35 deliveries while Shankar was a bit more proactive as he rotated the strike well and also cashed in on the loose balls. After the partnership crossed the fifty mark, Rayudu managed to break the shackles, with a four and a six off de Grandhomme in an over, but he was treading a risky line with his shot selections. He managed to survive, though, and put on 98 runs in partnership with Shankar before a mix-up ended in the latter's run out for 45.

New Zealand, meanwhile, had done a good job of keeping India's scoring rate in check as Rayudu brought up an 86-ball half-century. But the batsman managed to put the New Zealand bowlers under some pressure with positive batting. Put down by Boult in the deep off Munro, Rayudu capitalised as he employed the slog six for a couple of sixes and also found the ropes regularly before falling to Henry. There were some fireworks from Pandya in the death overs as he struck three successive sixes off Todd Astle in the 47th over and also cleared the fence off Boult and Neesham. After some umpiring blunders in the penultimate over - no-ball not being called for a high bouncer and Pandya's failure to ground the bat not being spotted initially - Pandya's blitz came to an end as India finished with a touch above 250.

Brief scores: India 252 in 49.5 overs (Ambati Rayudu 90, Hardik Pandya 45, Vijay Shankar 45; Matt Henry 4-35, Trent Boult 3-39) beat New Zealand 217 in 44.1 overs (James Neesham 44, Kane Williamson 39; Yuzvendra Chahal 3-41, Mohammed Shami 2-35) by 35 runs.

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