A stunning century from Tom Latham and Kane Williamson's unbeaten 94 helped New Zealand chase down 307 in the series opener in Auckland against India on Friday (November 25). Latham and Williamson joined forces with a huge task ahead of them and eventually got the job done with ease in the end as their unbeaten 221-run stand gave New Zealand a 1-0 lead.
New Zealand didn't get off to the greatest of starts. Finn Allen and Devon Conway did take on Arshdeep Singh to score 25 off his three overs but runs were hard to come by at the other end. Shardul Thakur had an excellent opening spell and that resulted in a wicket as he picked up Allen two balls after he was given a reprieve by Yuzvendra Chahal. Umran Malik then impressed on debut with his pace and Washington kept the runs in check to mount the pressure on New Zealand. It resulted in Conway succumbing eventually as he chased a full and wide delivery from Umran to edge behind.
Daryl Mitchell fell in similar fashion as he too chased a wide delivery from Umran to mistime it as the fielder near the point boundary took a simple catch to hand India the advantage by the halfway point. But slowly, things did change. Williamson for a change looked quite fluent after his prolonged lean patch but it was Latham who stunned the visitors. He played second fiddle initially, rotating the strike to good effect but once he got closer to fifty, Latham shifted gears.
The left-hander, who is renowned for playing spin well in the middle overs, took charge as he fetched a six and a four off successive deliveries against Umran to signal his intentions. The game was still in the balance with 11 overs left in the chase but the 40th over completely shifted the game in New Zealand's favour. Shardul Thakur was ripped apart by Latham as he fetched four fours and a six to not only bring up a 76-ball century but also bring down the equation to 66 from the final 10. From thereon, the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Latham kept exploiting the shorter boundary on the leg side clearing it with ease as he took full toll of a shell-shocked Indian bowling unit to finish unbeaten on 145 to help his team chase down the total with 17 balls to spare.
Earlier in the day, half-centuries from the top order coupled with Washington's cameo right at the death powered India to 306/7. The total did appear to be par on a surface where batting became easier as the innings progressed especially with the shorter boundaries either side.
Gill and Dhawan made a watchful start in the powerplay with the new ball moving around. With the surface under covers for a long time, Kane Williamson had no hesitation in opting to bowl first and his decision was vindicated. Dhawan did fetch a couple of boundaries in the opening three overs but quickly went into a shell with Matt Henry posing problems. After the first ten overs, India had only 40 on the board. Even though runs slowly started flowing post that initial period, the openers had a lot of catching up to do at a venue where the square boundaries were very short.
Both Dhawan and Gill eventually went past fifty and the latter was severe in his approach once he settled down. With the pair raising more than 100, New Zealand badly needed a wicket and Lockie Ferguson obliged. Gill timed one perfectly to get caught near the boundary whereas Dhawan fell in the following over. India were forced to retreat once again after Ferguson removed Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav in the same over.
Iyer then joined forces with Sanju Samson to get India going again.
Even though New Zealand gave him a couple of reprieves, Iyer managed to recover to register a crucial fifty whereas Samson at the other end managed to settle down as well.
At 240/4 after 44 overs, India were primed to go past 300 before Samson fell. Washington then took over and came up with some incredible strokes at the death to stun New Zealand with an unbeaten 37 off just 16 balls. It was good enough to carry India past 300 but not sufficient to prevent going 1-0 down.