Dambulla: India relied on Virender Sehwag’s swashbuckling century and an inspired show of swing bowling to spank New Zealand by 105 runs and cruise into the final of the cricket tri-series here on Wednesday.
While the flamboyant Sehwag (110) notched up his 13th ODI century to steer India to a competitive 223 after four early jolts, the pace bowlers than came up with fine exhibition of swing and control to skittle out the Kiwis for 118 in 30.1 overs.
Tailender Kyle Mills provided some late entertainment with a rollicking 52 but none of the other New Zealand batsman could provide much resistance as the Indians exploited the bowling-friendly conditions to the hilt to set up a summit showdown with Sri Lanka on Saturday.
The Indians, who desperately needed to win the floodlit contest to stay afloat, owed their victory to the brilliance of Sehwag who gave them enough runs on the board to push for a win on a tricky pitch at the Rangiri international stadium.
Chasing 224 for win, The Kiwis found the going tough under lights as the Indian speedsters extracted a lot of swing to virtually rip through the top-order.
Praveen Kumar struck the first blow for the Indians by dismissing opener Martin Guptill for a first ball duck, trapping him leg before with a gem of a delivery. Ashish Nehra then removed the other opener Bradley-John Watling with a big inswinger. Watling plays it onto the stumps as he looked to steer clear of the delivery.
The Kiwis suffered a big jolt when their captain Ross Taylor was dismissed by Kumar, who really looked impressive as he troubled all the batsmen with swing. Taylor fell prey to a lovely outswinger as he hung his bat out and edged the ball to Dhoni behind the stumps, leaving New Zealand tottering at 14 for three.
Kumar added another wicket to his kitty soon when he bowled Scot Styris while Ishant Sharma evicted Kane Williamson to compound the misery for the Kiwis. Reduced to a precarious 42 for six by the 17th over, it was only a matter of time before the innings folded up, though Mills hit some lusty shots in the fag end to reduce the margin of defeat.
Earlier, barring Sehwag, none of the other Indian batsmen could really get going though captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (38) played a good supporting role. Tim Southee (4/49) was the pick of the Kiwis bowlers though he was a trifle expensive. Spinner Nathan McCullum (3/35) and Kyle Mills (2/42) were the other wicket-taking bowlers.
The Indian innings began on a disastrous note with Dinesh Karthik, who has been in woeful form right through the series, returning to the pavilion in the very first over off Kyle Mills. It was a horrendous shot from the Indian opener as he poked at a length delivery outside the off stump, edging it to wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins behind the stump. He paid the price for fishing out even without getting his eye in.
Virat Kohli, who replaced Rohit Sharma in the team, joined the action after Karthik’s dismissal but could not survive long, being at the receiving end of a dubious decision. Kohli (8) looked stunned when Sri Lankan umpire Ashoka de Silva gave him out when he edged an outgoing delivery off Tim Southee to wicketkeeper Hopkins. Television replays picked up some noise and the snickometer showed there was a slight nick.
Despite the early losses, Sehwag showed his customary flamboyance as he unleashed a flurry of strokes and scored the runs at a brisk pace. Sehwag was particularly severe on Mills as he clobbered him for two consecutive boundaries and then hammered Southee for a couple of boundaries.
During the course of the innings, Sehwag became the seventh batsmen in ODIs to hit 1000 boundaries. The record of hitting the most number of boundaries in ODIs is held by Sachin Tendulkar who has 1927 boundaries.
The Indians suffered a big jolt when Yuvraj Singh (6) also perished in the 12th over to a poor shot with Andy McKay being the wicket-taker. Yuvraj attempted a pull shot but his balance was all awry and he only managed to top edge the ball for the wicketkeeper to latch on to a superb catch.
The ball climbed just below chest high and Yuvraj tried to pull it from well outside off stump which accounted for his wicket. It was then Suresh Raina’s turn to return to the pavilion and the Indians found themselves in the doldrums at a precarious 66 for four by the 13th over.
Raina, who has always been vulnerable to shirt pitched deliveries, paid the price for a faulty pull to a ball that was not too short. Raina was quick to get on to the back foot but pulled it to short midwicket fielder Kane Williamson who dived to his right to take a good catch.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sehwag tried to steady the innings by playing cautiously and punishing only the loose deliveries. Both gradually accelerated the pace of scoring after getting a feel of the conditions and the measure of the rather spongy track at the Rangiri International stadium.
Sehwag took a single off spinner Williamson to complete his 13th ODI century which came off just 87 balls. Spinner Nathan McCullum brought an end to the 107-run fifth wicket partnership by evicting the dangerous Sehwag soon after he completed his century, much to the relief of his teammates.
Sehwag holed out at deep midwicket as a tried to pick McCullum’s flighted delivery from outside off and swung it straight to the fielder. His knock of 110 came off just 93 ball and was laced with 16 boundaries and a six.
Ravindra Jadeja (17) fell immediately after Dhoni’s departure and Ashish Nehra did not survive long either, hastening the end of the Indian innings.