Vadodara:New Zealand's one-day woes continued into a ninth straight game as their batting failed to cope with moist early-morning conditions in Vadodara. Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel swung and seamed the ball all right, but New Zealand will look back at how unremarkable their response was. With the pitch easing out in the afternoon, Gautam Gambhir made the easy chase look ridiculously easy, becoming only the eighth captain to score centuries in back-to-back ODIs.
From the time he won the toss and put New Zealand in, Gambhir hardly put a foot wrong, keeping his perfect captaincy record and India's unbeaten home season intact. Gambhir's bowlers and New Zealand batsmen responded to that call in equal measure. The openers gifted their wickets, the middle order went into a shell, and even though James Franklin and Nathan McCullum added 94 for the ninth wicket, it was never going to be enough. Not with Gambhir making room and peppering the off side with drives and cuts, bringing up his fifty in 30 balls, out of India's 64 then.
Watching Gambhir bat, the struggle New Zealand went through early in the morning seemed far away. Brendon McCullum, making a comeback himself, laid out a welcome mat for Zaheer, guiding a widish delivery straight to second slip. Martin Guptill ran himself out soon.
Between those dismissals, Williamson set the template for the day. His front foot went across to the first ball he faced. It swing in enough down the leg side to be called a wide, but Williamson had fallen over trying to correct the movement. Neither Williamson nor Ross Taylor could get rid of that tendency during their short stays. Taylor's wicket, though, came in a tame fashion as he went to drive Zaheer. The shot was played away from his body, and an inside edge ensued.
Taylor's No. 4 position has been a matter of debate with arguments that he should take more responsibility and bat at No. 3. Williamson's lack of ability to counterattack only seemed to highlight the notion. For the third game running, Williamson got off to a slow start, and did little to hit Munaf off his plan.
Munaf loves to bowl back of a length, just outside off, and wobble the ball slightly either way. However, he tends to get a bit rattled when somebody uses that predictability to come down and hit him. In this series, though, no one has come close to doing that. And once Williamson allowed Munaf to do what he wanted, that lbw call seemed a matter of time with the batsman regularly falling over.
Modern captains tend to go into the containment mode once the 15th over ends irrespective of how many wickets they might have got. Gambhir, who had put New Zealand in, was refreshingly old-school. When he saw R Ashwin turn the first ball, he set Test-match fields for Scott Styris and James Franklin. Yuvraj, at leg slip, soon came into action taking a sharp low catch to send Styris back. Daniel Vettori did a McCullum, guiding Yusuf Pathan straight to slip for another sharp catch for Yuvraj, who later moved to leg slip to get rid of Gareth Hopkins too.
Having fallen behind the over-rate, though, Gambhir omitted to use four of Zaheer and Nehra's overs. Facing part-time spinners on a pitch that had eased out a bit, Franklin and N. McCullum had little trouble building a partnership. It was almost as if Gambhir was not concerned at all by the growing partnership.
The way he turned out with the bat, Gambhir need not have worried either.
After having been at the wrong end of Gambhir's off-side play in Jaipur, New Zealand tried to cramp him up, and found that Gambhir was equally adept at scoring in the on side. He flicked the second ball he faced for a fine boundary. In Kyle Mills' next over, he picked the gap between mid-on and midwicket. In Mills' next Gambhir started making room and went into his favourite off side. He capitalised on the correction on the next delivery, moving to 23 off 11.
Andy McKay soon got the same treatment: wide ball, four; too straight, four; wide again, four. With time Gambhir's favourite chips over extra cover and midwicket came out too. He might have seemed to slow down after reaching his fifty, but he took only 58 further deliveries to get to the hundred.
M Vijay didn't struggle like he did in Jaipur, but had to stay content with being the lesser partner in that stand. And like he did in Japiur, Virat Kohli came out and scored a fifty in the company of his captain.