CHENNAI: Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a solid batting display by Indians with an explosive unbeaten century to set up a crushing 117-run victory over a hapless New Zealand in a lop-sided warm-up game ahead of the World Cup on Wednesday.
Dhoni smashed a 64-ball 108 not out and Gautam Gambhir contributed a classy 89 as India first scored an imposing 360/5 after electing to bat and then shot out New Zealand for 243 in 43.1 overs to notch up their second World Cup warm-up victory on the trot.
Chasing an imposing 361 to win, New Zealand batsmen wilted under pressure as Indian spinners took centrestage on a helpful pitch at the M A Chidambaram Stadium to maintain a clean slate ahead of their World Cup opener against Bangladesh in Dhaka on Sunday.
Needing to score at a stiff rate of 7.20 runs an over, it was always a tough task for the team playing second and expectedly Indian slow bowlers extracted turn and bounce from the pitch as the Kiwis surrendered without much fight.
Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla and Yuvraj Singh broke the back of the Kiwi batting, taking two wickets apiece while Ravichandran Ashwin also had a satisfying outing with 1/31, having provided the initial breakthrough by dismissing opener Martin Guptill.
Ashish Nehra, who went without wicket in his initial spell, took the last two wickets.
Barring the openers — Brendon McCullum (58 off 54 balls) and Guptill (38 off 45 balls) — who negotiated the Indian new ball bowlers well, all other batsmen, including Ross Taylor, who captained the Kiwis today, Jessy Rider and Scott Styris failed to raise to the occasion.
Except for the opening stand of 94 from 15 overs, the Kiwis could not put up any more substantial partnerships as Dhoni rotated Harbhajan, Ashwin, Yuvraj and Chawla.
Both Chawla and Ashwin bowled a tight line and length and Dhoni continued with them for long spells, perhaps to assess the right one for the second spinner’s slot for the tournament proper.
Harbhajan, who bowled four overs on the trot, was in his usual penetrative bowling.
Earlier, an explosive unbeaten knock of 108 by Dhoni and a classy 89 by Gambhir powered India to an imposing 360 for five after electing to bat.
After sharing 68 runs in 9.3 overs for the fourth wicket with Gambhir, Dhoni set the nearly-packed Chepauk stadium on fire as he tore into the Kiwi bowling in the company of Suresh Raina, who made his exit just 12 balls before the hosts ended their innings.
Raina made a quick fire 50 off just 26 balls with three huge sixes and four boundaries and added 124 runs in 9.2 overs along with Dhoni.
For the hapless New Zealand, Jacob Oram and Tim Southee were the most successful bowlers sharing two wickets each, while Kyle Mills accounted for one wicket.
Openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar started cautiously as the Kiwi pacers extracted bounce and also kept up a steady line in length to stifle the Indian openers.
Tendulkar (17) was the first to go with the scoreboard reading 35 and soon Sehwag (23) followed suit as India were reduced to 42 for two.
However, Gambhir hit form at the right time and resurrected the Indian batting along with Virat Kohli (59), adding 106 crucial runs for the third wicket to save India from the embarrassment of another batting collapse like in Bangalore against Australia.
After Kohli’s departure, Gambhir involved in a 68-run stand for the fourth wicket with Dhoni. The hosts made good use of the opportunities and also showed better on field intensity as both Gambhir and Dhoni rotated their strike and looked for big runs.
During their stay, the pair scored at 7.15 runs an over together for 9.3 overs at the pitch.
Dhoni, who took the role of aggressor after Gambhir’s exit, was in his elements as he stepped on the gas and went on a run hunt, hitting the bowlers, particularly Jacob Oram, all around the park.
After completing his half century in just 40 balls, Dhoni raced to 61 with five successive boundaries, including a four at the square leg region and one over the bowler Oram, who was taken off from duty at end of 43rd over.
Dhoni continued his blitzkrieg and sent spinner Nathan McCullum to the ropes twice, much to the amusement of over 35,000 odd crowd that cheered every shot of the host captain.
New Zealand skippered by Ross Taylor used as many as seven bowlers on the wicket which offered good bounce with the odd ball keeping low. But spinners McCullum and Luke Woodcock came a cropper against the mighty Indian batting.(PTI)