India cruised to their first significant bilateral One-Day International (ODI) series win in nearly two years as they thumped a hapless New Zealand on a slow surface at Visakhapatnam in the series decider by 190 runs. After half-centuries from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli set New Zealand a competitive target of 270, India's spinners led by Amit Mishra's 5 for 18 rolled the hosts out for a paltry 79, sending a festive Vizag crowd into delirium.
The contest didn't live up to its top billing. Despite their struggles in the longer format, New Zealand had put on a great fight to push the ODI series to a decider. But on a wicked surface and against a legspinner on top of his game, their batting came a cropper, thus ending their month and a half sojourn of the sub-continent, which featured a three-nil whitewash in the Tests, on a rather sour note.
All it took was Axar Patel to force a false shot from Kane Williamson to open the floodgates in the second innings. New Zealand's hopes of chasing down 270 rested with the experienced pair of Williamson and Ross Taylor once the seamers had accounted for the openers. After a steady 35-run stand Williamson gave Axar the charge and found long off. Then Mishra took centre stage. Taylor edged a cut to Dhoni and walked. BJ Walting was cleaned up by a googly. James Neesham, by a vicious leg spinner. He also added the wickets of Tim Southee and Ish Sodhi while debutant Jayant Yadav got Corey Anderson as New Zealand's innings closed abjectly inside 24 overs.
India won more than a fair share of tosses in this series, perhaps not many more important than the one at Visakhapatnam. The pitch played slow and progressively got difficult for stroke-making as the balls got old. In such a scenario it was important for Dhoni to reconsider his team combination. India handed a debut to the off-spinning all-rounder Jayant and elected to bat. Hardik Pandya missed out while Dhawal Kulkarni slipped back to the bench to accommodate the returning Jasprit Bumrah.
It took all of one delivery for the pitch to reveal its true nature. Ajinkya Rahane played early to a Tim Southee delivery and hit it with the inside half of his bat. Once again, he'd been plagued by a slow start. Boundaries, while elegant, were few and far between dot balls for both Indian openers as India reached 23 from the first seven overs. Rahane himself played out 22 dots as New Zealand bowlers operated with a wide slip and short mid-wicket in single-saving positions. The Mumbaikar's laboured innings came to an end after a swap of ends for James Neesham. With the ball beginning to stow on the batsman, Rahane chipped a length ball tamely to mid-wicket, falling for a 39-ball 20.
Kohli's arrival gave the innings much-needed impetus. Rohit picked up a four and a six off Neesham to set up a busy passage of play. Mitchell Santner plugged away with his unerring lines even as the two batsman identified Sodhi's inconsistency as one of the target points. Twenty eight came of the leggie's first spell as Williamson flirted with the idea of bowling Anderson's medium pace for the first time in the series. Rohit then suffered what appeared to be a pulled muscle in his thigh that affected his mobility. But when running between the wickets under humid conditions no longer seemed possible, he holed out at deep mid-wicket in an attempt to score as many as possible. He'd managed to add just four runs after being handed a reprieve by Ross Taylor when on 66.
Dhoni at four, found it tough to force the pace as Williamson quickly attacked him with spin from both ends. He'd crawled to 5 off 16 even as Kohli reached 30 with a strike-rate of 78 despite having hit a solitary four. Dhoni hogged much of the strike in the half-century stand and by the 34th over, had played the same number of balls as Kohli - 50. But just as he was beginning to find his batting rhythm after the partnership had yielded 71, he was trapped plumb in front by Santner after missing a sweep. Pandey departed soon for a duck and Kohli, who'd gotten to his 50 off 62 balls, was left to anchor an uncertain lower-order with over 12 overs to spare.
When India's vice-captain hit Sodhi straight down long-off's throat in the 44th over with the score on 220, there were fears that the innings would miss its final push. Axar and Jadhav then added 46 off 39 balls to drag the total close to 270. By delaying the attack until the 48th over, the duo ensured that 250 was a certainty. The other 19 runs were just a luxury on a day when Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli nearly managed to score what the entire New Zealand team did.
Brief scores: India 269/6 in 50 overs (Rohit Sharma 70, Virat Kohli 65; Trent Boult 2-52) beat New Zealand 79 (Kane Williamson 27; Amit Mishra 5-18) by 190 runs.