Jaipur:Gautam Gambhir's bowlers responded well to his call of bowling first, restricting New Zealand with smart, accurate bowling, and the captain reciprocated with a fluent 138 off 116 balls to make the chase look easy.
Gambhir, capping off a return to form that began with a struggling Test fifty in Hyderabad last month, never let his strike-rate come under 100 once he crossed the mark in the sixth over. He had for company an equally hungry Virat Kohli, who now has two centuries and a fifty in his last three international outings.
Dew, expected later in the evening, was the reason why India put New Zealand in on a cracking surface, but the towels were conspicuous by absence in the second half of the game. Which is what made the bowling effort special.
The pitch played slow and low, and India cut out the pace and the room. There was nothing spectacular done with the ball, just accurate, wicket to wicket bowling for most of the part. Martin Guptill and Scott Styris tried to take New Zealand towards a fighting total with important fifties, but India pulled the visitors back every time they threatened to break free.
New Zealand began with three boundaries in the first two overs, but Sreesanth's late swing removed Jamie How. Guptill and Kane Williamson looked solid but subdued in a 50-run stand for the second wicket. Those runs took 12.5 overs coming - all but seven of those deliveries in the Powerplay.
The duo did little to upset the bowlers' rhythm. Munaf Patel was allowed to hit the same spot again and again, with slight seam movement either way. One of those moved a bit more than expected, and found a way through Williamson's bat and pad, taking the top of off. The pressure showed when Ross Taylor went to hit Yusuf Pathan's first delivery for a six, but found deep midwicket.
Styris came out in the 25th over with the score yet to reach three figures, and cut out the unproductive balls, taking singles with ease and finding timely boundaries. When he and Guptill asked for the Powerplay in the 35th over, R Ashwin responded with a carrom balls to remove Guptill. That set New Zealand back by a couple of overs.
Styris and Daniel Vettori had to take some time set up another charge, but Sreesanth pegged them back again. Like he did in the first match of the series, Sreesanth came back for a new spell in the 46th over, and took two wickets with his first two deliveries. He ended a threatening ninth-wicket partnership in the last game, and got rid of Styris and Vettori this time.
New Zealand opened their defence with Nathan McCullum, presumably to get through some overs of spin before dew appeared, and immediately troubled M Vijay, who struggled to come to terms with the slowness of the pitch.
Gambhir, however, was playing in a different world. He timed almost everything sweetly except for a couple of inside edges that went for fours. Against Kyle Mills, he walked down the pitch on a couple of occasions to create the driving length. When Mills pitched slightly short, he cut him away. The driving between mid-off and extra cover stood out.
By the end of the eighth over, Gambhir had scored four times Vijay's eight, taking India to 40, and putting Mills out of the attack. Against Styris he made room and went over extra cover. Andy McKay strayed too straight, and was clipped for four into the leg side. There was not a hint of power; the short back lift emphasised how well he timed the ball.
Vijay continued his patchy innings until he tried a premeditated slog-sweep off Vettori in the 18th over, and was bowled. Gambhir, though, had reached 54 off 48 by then, out of India's 87, and looked set to carry India through. A crucial moment came in the 22nd over when Gambhir's bat got stuck into the ground as he tried to slide it in, but Vettori failed to collect the throw cleanly and Gambhir was let off.
Every time Gambhir needed quick runs, he made room and went over extra cover. Kohli batted like he was never dismissed in Guwahati, pulling powerfully wide of long-on, and punching square for most of his runs. Over by over, the 116-run partnership brought the asking rate down, until it read 4.3 for the last 13 overs when Kohli found short midwicket with a pull shot.
It was a distraught batsman that left the wicket, 36 short of a third straight century, which was possible with 56 still required. His captain and a senior back in Delhi, though, was there to see India home and continue their unbeaten home season.