One was good. Two was excellent. Three was almost unthinkable.
And it was just out of reach for New Zealand at Auckland's Eden Park as India stormed back to tie an absolute thriller in the third one-day international. Chasing 315 to win, India finished 314-9 with spinner Ravindra Jadeja so nearly blasting them to their first win of the series.
Needing 18 off Corey Anderson's final over, Jadeja eyeballed the short boundaries. He cracked two sixes and left himself needing just two off the final delivery. But he could only guide Anderson's full offering to extra cover where Ross Taylor dived and kept it to a single, leaving Jadeja 66 not out off 45 balls. It sees New Zealand take an unbeatable 2-0 series lead into the final two matches in Hamilton and Wellington.
It was more Eden Gardens than Eden Park as a fizzing crowd of 28,612, dominated by Indian support, went berserk.
Anderson ended with a career-best 5-63 after he appeared to have won the game for his country again. There was controversy in the 47th over when Mitchell McClenaghan looked to have Jadeja caught behind, but umpire Rod Tucker disagreed. Replays showed there was an edge. Then Hamish Bennett couldn't quite hold a low chance at third man off Jadeja in the 49th. It was a game of centimetres, and the teams couldn't be separated.
"It was a great game of cricket, it ebbed and flowed the whole way. Credit to India, when they looked out of the game they flexed their muscle and got themselves back into it. Just when we thought we had it they came back. The innings that Jadeja played was pretty awesome," New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said.
"We had our chances; a few catches and a few run out opportunities. It's a tough one, a great game to be involved in but disappointed we didn't get the result."
McCullum said the execution by his death bowlers was slightly off, with Anderson and McClenaghan each giving Jadeja deliveries in his half to launch over the short straight boundaries.
Fellow spinner Ravi Ashwin got India within sight with 65 off 46 balls before he was removed by a special Guptill boundary catch when he teetered on the rope, threw the ball infield and regathered.
Recalled paceman Bennett (2-41) bowled outstandingly in his first ODI in almost three years, removing big threat Virat Kohli for six.
Bennett was new and improved from major back surgery in his first ODI in nearly three years. His first over went for 10 against Rohit Sharma, but the outstanding Kohli brought out the best in him.
Bowling an impeccable line, consistently above 140kmh, Bennett had the great batsman watchful and anchored. Then he nipped one away and a disbelieving Kohli touched an edge, cueing one of the best wicket celebrations seen at Eden Park.
Then it was a matter of how far skipper MS Dhoni could take it.
The skipper got them to the powerplay with 15 overs left, then blasted Anderson for six to reach 50 off 60 balls. Golden arm struck back, though, and next ball Dhoni heaved a short one like a tracer bullet to Tim Southee's safe hands at deep square leg. Game over, or so we thought, until the spin duo arrived at the crease.
It's hard to quibble with 314, the third-highest ODI total at Eden Park, but at one stage New Zealand were threatening 340 after getting a flyer.
Guptill anchored the innings with his fifth ODI century, just his second at home since scoring 122 not out against West Indies on debut at Eden Park five years ago. It was a welcome return to form after Guptill scratched his way through the West Indies series after returning from a broken finger and ankle surgery on Boxing Day.
He and Kane Williamson, who notched a third successive half-century, added 153, just short of New Zealand's second wicket ODI record of 157, by Guptill and McCullum against Zimbabwe in 2011.
From an imposing 189-1 in the 33rd over, things went a touch awry. Man of the moment Anderson's elevation to No 4 didn't work as he promptly smashed Ashwin's spin for six but then was fooled by a quicker ball.
It seemed to throw New Zealand's innings into a spin. Guptill's departure for 111 off 129 sparked a slump of 6-64 as Brendon McCullum lasted just three balls and Ross Taylor and Nathan McCullum perished to run outs. New Zealand's running was jittery at times and India finally started nailing their direct hits.
But the platform was strong and Luke Ronchi (38 off 20) and Southee (27 off 23) helped nudge the hosts over 300.
"If we wanted the perfect innings we would have got 350. We did it so well in that front half but there's always going to be a couple of things go wrong and we compounded that by some poor decisions and some silly cricket. I still thought 314 after being asked to bat was pretty good. I'd definitely take that at halftime," McCullum said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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