India’s Achilles Heel, the middle order came to the side’s rescue in the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand, with Ambati Rayudu (90), Hardik Pandya (45) and Vijay Shankar (45) coming to the rescue after the top-order once again faltered. 

Opting first again on a spicy track, the Indian team were languishing at 18 for 4 at Wellington, before the visitors recovered to post 252 runs on the board. New Zealand too lost early wickets in the pursuit, but a fighting 67-run partnership between Kane Williamson and Tom Latham steadied the ship. However, some quick dismissals in the middle overs meant that they eventually fell 35 runs short, despite James Neesham unleashing himself with a fine knock of 44.

The Indian bowlers rose to the occasion perfectly to New Zealand on the mat in the challenging run-chase. Henry Nicholls was out attempting a pull off Mohammad Shami and Colin Munro, who was playing after an injury to Martin Guptill, lived dangerously before he too was sent back by Shami, who was named the Player of the Series. With two wickets in the powerplay overs, and with Ross Taylor going back LBW off Pandya, New Zealand were in a spot of bother, before Latham and Williamson stitched together some crucial runs.

They played the patient game well and survived a tight bowling spell from India’s seamers. Instead of looking to attack every ball, they focused on strike rotation and only sent the loose balls towards the boundary ropes. However, the introduction of spin in the 19th over undid all their excellent work, as the Kiwi skipper was sent back by Kedar Jadhav as he attempted a pull and Latham was out LBW by Yuzvendra Chahal. The leg-spinner soon dismissed Colin de Grandhomme to leave the home team reeling at 135 for 6 in the 31st over, but a counter-attacking knock by Neesham provided the side with some hope.

He sent the ball sailing across the ground as he smashed 44 in only 32 balls, however, a clever run-out by MS Dhoni exposed the tail.

Earlier in the day, Rohit Sharma’s decision to bat first was proved a mistake as the openers departed in quick succession, with the captain walking back after being bowled by a Matt Henry ball and Shikhar Dhawan following suit as he tried to clear an uppercut through third-man. MS Dhoni, returning to the playing 11 in place of Dinesh Karthik, and Shubman Gill were unable to seize the chances and they too departed soon to leave India in a spot of bother.

However, Shankar, who was batting for the first time in the format, showed his mettle by surviving a tough bowling spell from Boult and Henry while on the other end, Rayudu was biding his time and scoring at less than 20 off the first 35 balls he faced in his knock. After the partnership crossed 50, Rayudu tried to break the shackles and helped India get back into the game with a 98-run partnership.

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The Man of the Match, Rayudu, was given a chance after Boult was dropped off the bowling of Colin Munro and capitalized with a couple of sixes before falling prey to Henry. Pandya too let himself loose as he struck three successive sixes off the bowling of Todd Astle in the 47th over, which allowed India to reach a respectable score of 252.

Brief scores: India 252 in 49.5 overs (Ambati Rayudu 90, Hardik Pandya 45, Vijay Shankar 45; Matt Henry 4-35, Trent Boult 3-39) beat New Zealand 217 in 44.1 overs (James Neesham 44, Kane Williamson 39; Yuzvendra Chahal 3-41, Mohammed Shami 2-35) by 35 runs.

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