The Rajkot crowd was treated to a typical One-Day cricket feast on Friday. On a wicket that could be described as a batsmen's paradise, New Zealand set India a 350-run target and the home team pressed the panic button with still about 13 overs left. It was all over in the 47th over in favour of the visiting team. Thus New Zealand took the first of this five-match One-Day International Series by 43 runs.
It will be uncharitable to single out a New Zealand player to hail as the best performer of the day. However, the role played by Nathan Astle deserves special mention. Astle excelled in the dual role of an opening batsman and a bowler today to run away with the "man of the match" award. He was associated in two century stands and placed New Zealand at the top of the world (224 for 2 in 31.3 overs).
Astle and Craig Spearman (68in 44 balls, 15x4) set a scorching pace amassing 115 runs for the first wicket in only 15 overs. And in the next 16.3 overs, Astle and Roger Twose (56 in 53 balls, 4x4, 3x6) piled up 109 runs. Astle went on to score 120-his seventh century in ODIs- and was the fifth man out at 310 (45.3 overs). Astle's knock came off 136 balls and contained 14 fours and two sixes.
A handsome contribution indeed. There was hardly a dull moment during New Zealand's innings though wickets fell at regular intervals during the last 14 overs (349 for nine in 50 overs).
Very few teams in the history of ODIs had chased a victory target of 300 and above. Once India had done it (317) against Pakistan in Dhaka in 1998. The grand fashion in which Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar began India's chase suggested that it would as well be a memorable day for the home team. But things suddenly swung in favour of an attack that believed in "perseverance would tell in the end".
And it turned out to be so. Tendulkar (32) and Ganguly (41) left in quick succession (at 87 and 90) by the 13th over second ball. The run-rate set by this pair was inspiring and so Rahul Dravid (39 in 43) and Ajay Jadeja (95 in 97,3x4, 3x6) and later Robin Singh (23 in 25) kept India's hopes alive.
Jadeja added 81 with Dravid and 69 with Robin Singh. Two hundred and forty for four in 37 overs was the score when Robin Singh left. That was the beginning of the end.