Hyderabad: Faced with the prospect of elimination, an inspired India reversed their sliding fortunes with an emphatic 145-run victory over New Zealand and romped into the final of the TVS Cup triangular cricket series in Hyderabad on Saturday. After the Indian mauling through scintillating centuries by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar which propelled the hosts to a huge 353 for five, New Zealand could never really recover from the early jolts to fold up for 208 in 47 overs with Scott Styris providing a semblance of resistance with a determined 54. The hosts, under enormous pressure to deliver in the do-or-die floodlit encounter, outplayed the Kiwis in all departments of the game in what turned out to be a rather lop-sided contest.
The Indians, who finished their league engagements with 16 points from six outings, will now lock horns with world champions Australia in the final at the majestic Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Tuesday. Australia had already qualified for the final with 23 points from their six matches while New Zealand, handicapped by the injury-induced absence of captain Stephen Fleming, bowed out of the tri-series managing just ten points. Electing to bat, the Indians relied on a career-best 130 by Sehwag and Tendulkar's 91-ball 102 to pile up a mammoth 353 for five in their allotted 50 overs to leave the Kiwis in a daze.
After Tendulkar and Sehwag's batting heroics, Rahul Dravid also produced a quickfire unbeaten 50 off just 22 balls to pile on the misery on the visitors who seemed totally out of sorts in the crucial encounter at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium. The New Zealand run chase began on a disastrous note losing opener Chris Nevin (1) with the score on eight with speedster Ajit Agarkar doing the damage much to the delight of a vociferous home crowd. Nevin was bowled by a gem of a delivery by Agarkar who reduced the Kiwis to 25 for two by the ninth over by evicting Chris Harris to give the Indians the upper hand. Harris was trapped leg before wicket with a vicious incoming ball to leave the visitors in a precarious position as the two Indian new ball operators Zaheer Khan and Agarkar worked up a fiery opening spell.
The right handed Lou Vincent, who was striking the ball well, also returned to the pavilion soon for 22 throwing the Kiwis run chase in disarray. Scott Styris and Craig McMillan, the two in-form batsmen, tried to salvage the situation for the Black Caps as the duo put on 62 runs for the fourth wicket, raising hopes of a spirited fightback. McMillan played some audacious shots to keep pace with the stiff asking rate but his aggression was shortlived as he fell prey to leg spinner Anil Kumble, who was introduced into the attack in the 14th over. McMillan attempted a sweep but mistimed the shot completely and Rahul Dravid ran a few yards to the left to latch on to a simple catch.
Styris, who was the most aggressive Kiwi batsman, joined McMillan in the dressing room eight runs later with Murali Kartik plotting his downfall.The right-handed batsman went for a lofted shot but failed to get hold of the ball properly and Agarkar took a well-judged catch at the long-off region. Styris struck nine boundaries during his 49-ball 54. Gasping at a precarious 118 for five at the half way stage, it was left to stand-in captain Chris Cairns to not only steady the ship but also put the innings back on track. The departure of Jacob Oram, who was quite capable of accelerating the pace of scoring, was a huge setback for the Black Caps who kept lagging in the run rate.
From then on, the Kiwis kept losing wickets at regular intervals to fold up for 208 in 45 overs, giving the hosts their first victory against them in the tri-series. Earlier, the formidable Indian batting line-up fired on all cylinders when it mattered most to tear the Kiwis bowling attack to shreds. Tendulkar and Sehwag provided the platform for the merciless assault by stitching a rollicking 182-run opening partnership much to the delight of a packed home crowd. Tendulkar set the packed Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium ablaze to notch up his 36th One- day International century before Sehwag took centrestage to record his highest One- day score of 130 in the do-or-die match. After Tendulkar and Sehwag had battered the hapless Kiwis, Rahul Dravid launched a savage assault to score a quickfire unbeaten 50 off just 22 balls to steer India beyond the 350 mark.
Fired on by the determination to make it to the final, India toyed with the bowling attack that lacked the sting to pose much problems for the hosts. Tendulkar, who appeared a trifle subdued in the early stages of his innings and took 33 balls to hit his first boundary, changed gears to unleash a barrage of boundaries. Captain Sourav Ganguly also chipped in with a 31-ball 33 in the batting display, which will give the team a lot confidence going into the summit showdown against the mighty Australians. Sehwag, who has not been in the best of forms in recent times, set the tempo by flicking paceman Daryl Tuffey to the square-leg boundary in the third ball of the innings and then slammed three consecutive boundaries off the same bowler in the ninth over to give a flying start to the run-collection.