Pace bowler Mohammed Shami’s return to the India team for his first game of the ongoing World Cup paid rich dividends as his five-wicket haul restricted New Zealand to 273, which though was their highest-ever against India in the tournament history but not enough to help them win.
India, riding on the 95 (103 balls; 8x4s, 2x6s) scored by former captain and talismanic batsman Virat Kohli, overhauled the target to end the 20-year wait of a win over the Kiwis in an ICC tournament.
The hard-fought four-wicket victory moved them to the top of the points table and pipped New Zealand to the second spot.
The last time India had beaten New Zealand in an event organised by the world governing body was in 2003 (World Cup in South Africa), which now seems eons away, considering that the man who was part of it and scored a half-century then, is India’s head coach now.
New Zealand, after being put in to bat, had looked to cross the 300-run mark at one time with Daryl Mitchell (130 off 127 balls) and Rachin Ravindra (75 off 87 balls) at the crease.
The two had helped New Zealand recover after the initial burst of bowling from India had realised two wickets for the cost of just 34 runs in the first power-play stage.
Shami broke the 159-run partnership, that had even negated the in-form wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, and returned to take two wickets in two balls.
Helped by tight bowling from others, he kept in check the visitors, who were held to a total that looked within India’s grasp.
The Kiwis, in their turn to bowl, didn’t have just the India batsmen to handle. There was mist, which seemingly caused some misfields and held up play for about 10 minutes, and the outfield where at least one New Zealand bowler seemed to have struggled for firm footing. That apart, there was dew.
The Black Caps dropped Rohit Sharma a couple of times, once in slip and the second time by the wicket-keeper.
The India captain provided a quick start, adding 71 with Shubman Gill (26 off 31) for the first wicket but could not cash in on the chances and fell for 46 (40 balls, 4x4s, 4x6s).
He played on to his stumps a wide delivery from Lockie Ferguson, who returned in the next over to have Gill caught at third-man.
Kohli then built half-century partnerships with Shreyas Iyer (33), KL Rahul (27) and Ravindra Jadeja (39 not out) as India coasted home with two overs to spare and welcomed by a burst of fire-crackers and lights.
There was just a brief flutter in Indian innings when both Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav fell in quick succession in the 33rd and 34th overs, but the Kiwis couldn’t go past the India No. 7, Jadeja, who batted responsibly, rotating the strike.
India had a long tail since they were playing a batsman short, but thankfully for India, Kohli and Jadeja didn’t let New Zealand reach that till the end.
And when the New Zealanders did, due to Kohli’s urge to get to a century and equal Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI tons, it was too late as India needed just five to win in 14 balls. They achieved those five runs on the next two balls.
Brief scores: New Zealand 273 all out in 50 overs (Daryl Mitchell 130, Rachin Ravindra 75, Mohammed Shami 5/54) lost to India 274/6 in 48 overs (Virat Kohli 95, Rohit Sharma 46, Ravindra Jadeja 44 not out, Lockie Ferguson 2/63)