Agony turns to ecstasy for New Zealand

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014

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New Zealand's Eden Park cricketing agony had gnawed away for 10 months until India's captain MS Dhoni chopped onto his stumps just after 5pm yesterday.

Back in March, England's gloveman Matt Prior did similar but the bails didn't drop and New Zealand were shattered, one wicket short of a famous victory.

Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum pronounced himself shattered again last night, but in a good way. After scoring 224, then hitting an awful low on Saturday when the wheels fell off, McCullum's pacemen led by the outstanding Neil Wagner (8-126 for the match) saw them home by 40 runs in another epic of Eden.

Chasing 407 to win, world No 2 India were dismissed for 366 late on the fourth day as New Zealand claimed their third successive test win and moved past West Indies to seventh on the rankings. They take an unbeatable series lead into Friday's second test in Wellington.

"You've always got to have that optimism," McCullum said.

"Even when they were 220-2 I still felt we weren't far away and if we could get a couple of wickets heading into that new ball then we'd be OK. The irony of the Matt Prior non-dismissal last year when it hit the stumps, and this time the bails came off was quite fitting. That [Dhoni's wicket] was a big turning point."

India began a fine, warm Sunday 87-1 and requiring another 320 with the sense this one would go down to the wire again on a docile drop-in.

It needed a New Zealander to bust the test open and while the much-trumpeted new ball duo of Tim Southee and Trent Boult played their parts, it was the man from Pretoria, via Dunedin, that won it. The left-armer tends to get the worst of the bowling conditions, when the ball is old and the batsmen in full flight. He's the workhorse, not the show pony, and with Indian pair Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli cruising along, McCullum didn't have many places to turn.

There were three big wickets; Dhawan's for 115, Kohli's for 67 and Dhoni for 39 as he and Ravindra Jadeja threatened to steal the test with some surprise power hitting.

Wagner bowled a 10-over spell of 2-26 with the old ball and removed Dhawan with a snorter that almost clipped his moustache. Kohli was in command and attacked young legspinner Ish Sodhi, but fell to a false pull shot.

Then with 45 required by the tourists, Dhoni was also sucked in by a slow bouncer and chopped onto his off stump.

Boult finished the job when he nicked out Ishant Sharma, giving the team's quiet achiever, gloveman BJ Watling, his sixth catch of the innings and ninth for the test, a New Zealand record which beat McCullum's eight against Pakistan in Napier in 2009.

McCullum won man of the match for his second double-ton which gave New Zealand a lead of 301 which they squandered when dismissed for 105 by fired-up Indian pace attack. He didn't regret not enforcing the follow-on, and noted only three teams had chased down 400 in a test. Under pressure, there's far more poise than panic these days in this team.

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"We've got the bowlers to take 20 wickets, it was a matter of giving them the most amount of rest to do so. We may have won more comfortably but I'd hate to have seen us chase 150-200 on the last day on that wicket with [Ravindra] Jadeja coming into play."

Dhoni had mixed emotions after a poor first day with the ball, then one of the best pace displays he'd seen, led by Mohammed Shami. He defended his and Jadeja's decision to go for broke at 270-6, which ended with Jadeja holing out. He felt they weren't close enough to play it cautious.

"You want test cricket to be really exciting because that's what draws fans into the arena. It was a perfect script for that. On the first day batsmen got double hundreds, we didn't bat well but came back with a storming bowling performance and that meant each and every session today was important. It kept the spectators engrossed. It was a fantastic test," Dhoni said.

- Fairfax Media

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