NEW DELHI: Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten half-century to steer India to an easy six-wicket win in the first ODI of the five-match series against New Zealand at Dharamsala on Sunday. Chasing 191, India achieved the target in 33.1 overs to take 1-0 lead with Kohli returning not out on 85 - his 37th fifty in the format.
That India were left to chase a sub-200 total was mainly due to the superiority of their bowlers and some insipid New Zealand batting that saw the visitors being reduced to 65/7 at one stage requiring the solidity of Tom Latham and some bold strokeplay from no 10 Tim Southee to take them the blushes. The early movement and overzealousness did New Zealand in and their travails against the Indian spinners continued in the limited-overs which saw them losing two wickets off successive Kedar Jadhav deliveries.
But luck too favoured India as they won a fourth successive toss which prompted MS Dhoni to bowl first and his bowlers rewarded him with five wickets inside 13 overs, triggered by debutant Hardik Pandya who picked up a wicket in his first over, finishing with 3/31 from seven overs.
It was clear that that New Zealand are still carrying the deep scars of the Test series whitewash as their sorry collapse made it apparent in Dharamsala. But thanks to a late recovery, sort of, they were able to give their bowlers something to defend.
But against Kohli, the chase master, the target never appeared challenging despite India giving away easy wickets. The India vice-captain, returning to the ODI fold after being rested for the Zimbabwe series, looked at ease, extending his Test form to ODIs. In all, he hit nine fours with two successive- a straight drive and a gentle cover drive - off Doug Bracewell being the most memorable of them all. He took 55 deliveries to reach his 37th half-century and despite a terrible mixup with Dhoni that ended the latter's innings at promising 21, calmly steered the chase, finishing off in style with a six.
A 71-run partnership for the 10th wicket between Latham and Southee added some semblance to a sorry New Zealand show. At one stage, they were 65/7 and in danger of being bowled out under 100 but Latham showed perseverance and played some sumptuous strokes, becoming the first New Zealand batsman to carry his bat through, returning unbeaten on 79. Southee played an enterprising knock with three sixes and six fours on way to his maiden ODI half-century.
Before the late comeback, a combined bowling effort, led by Pandya who ended with figures of 3/31 from seven overs, India were off to a stunning start with Umesh Yadav combining with his new-ball partner to slice up New Zealand top-order.
Opener Martin Guptill was edgy early on and with a bit of luck, collected three fours in four deliveries off Pandya, two via edges. Before that he had endured an excellent first over from Yadav but his appearance was cut short with Pandya inducing an edge to the second slip where Rohit Sharma did his part in ending his knock at 12. Captain Kane Williamson would have hoped the change in format will ring in change in fortunes. The Indians were having none of that. Williamson slashed Yadav straight to the third man fielder to be out for 3. With Ross Taylor registering a golden duck, Yadav had two in two. Corey Anderson negotiated the hat-trick delivery but Pandya teamed up with Yadav to send him packing later on.
Pandya, presented his India cap in the format by Kapil Dev who incidentally made his ODI debut on the same day, dismissed Luke Ronchi for a duck to break New Zealand's back at 48/5. And Jadhav added two scalps in two deliveries - Jimmy Neesham fooled by the pace and and Mitchell Santner feathering an edge to 'keeper Dhoni.
At the other end, Latham seemed to be playing a different match altogether, not being extravagant and pacing his innings nicely. Unlike his team-mates who lost their wickets not to excellent deliveries but due of their own misjudgments, he was ready to wait, keeping his shorts along the ground. A fighting fifty was completed off 76 deliveries that had four sweetly timed fours and then added three more. For company, he had Southee who enjoyed a slice of luck when Yadav dropped him at fine leg when he was batting on 2. He then capitalised that reprieve with a counter-attacking innings in which he scored at the strike-rate of 122.22. Mishra ended his knock and later trapped Sodhi to keep New Zealand under 200.
But then Indian openers led a strong start before both fell after making promising starts followed Manish Pandey who threw away his wicket for a tame dismissal. But Kohli, as has often been the case, was rock solid, handing India victory in their 900th ODI.
Brief Scores: India 194/4 (Kohli 85*, Rahane 33) beat New Zealand 190 (Latham 79*, Southee 55; Pandya 3/31, Mishra 3/49)