Auckland, March 14 (IANS) A 196-run record fifth-wicket stand between captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina guided India to a six-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in Pool B here on Saturday to remain unbeaten in the cricket World Cup.
Chasing a challenging 288 at Eden Park, India were in disarray at 92/4 in the 23rd over. But Dhoni (85 not out) and Man-of-the-Match Raina (110 not out) played cautiously to see the defending champions win their sixth consecutive match with eight balls to spare.
With the win, Dhoni overtook legendary Clive Lloyd in the list of most consecutive wins in World Cups as captain, with 10 in a row. Only Australia’s Ricky Ponting, with 24 wins, is ahead.
India achieved another major milestone with their highest successful run-chase in Cup history, not to mention their 10th consecutive World Cup win.
On a small ground with shorter straight boundaries, the target wasn’t much, given India’s strong batting line-up. However, pressure can get to the best of teams and it got to the defending champions who started poorly by losing both openers Rohit Sharma (16) and Shikhar Dhawan (4) early in the seventh over with the score at 21.
Ajinkya Rahane (19) and Virat Kohli (38) struck a 50-run partnership to bail India out. But Rahane’s run out and Kohli’s wicket a little later put India in a precarious position at 92/4 in the 23rd over.
However, Dhoni and Raina came good just when it mattered as they rescued India with their partnership, the highest five-wicket stand in World Cups for India. The stand not just steadied the ship but eventually made the chase easy with Dhoni finishing it off in style, hitting a six over deep square-leg.
India were also helped by some sloppy fielding from Zimbabwe, who dropped a sitter or two let Raina score his fifth One-Day International (ODI) century. He stroked nine boundaries and four sixes in his 104-ball innings to up the ante.
At the other end, Dhoni played a typical knock with the aim of sticking at the wicket, picking up ones and twos and giving support to Raina, who was playing attacking cricket. Dhoni knocked eight boundaries and two sixes to bring up his 57th half-century and his highest score of the tournament.
Earlier, Brendan Taylor’s brilliant century guided Zimbabwe to post a challenging 287 before being bowled out in 48.5 overs. The afternoon totally belonged to the Zimbabwe skipper, who playing his final ODI, smashed a magnificent 110-ball 138 which was studded with 15 boundaries and five sixes.
In the process, Taylor became the first Zimbabwean to score back-to-back hundreds in World Cups and is also the first Zimbabwean to score 400 runs at the quadrennial event. He now also has the most number of centuries (8) by a Zimbabwean, overtaking Alastair Campbell (7).
Put in to bat, Zimbabwe were on the back-foot due to some brilliant bowling by India pacers Mohammed Shami (3/48) and Umesh Yadav (3/43). By the 11th over, Zimbabwe were tottering at 33/3 with all three India pacers picking up a wicket each.
But thereon, Taylor and Sean Williams (50) stuck it out in the middle to strike a significant 93-run fourth-wicket stand to steady their innings. Williams went on to score his 21st half-century before giving an easy catch to offie Ravichandran Ashwin (1/75) off his own bowling.
But Taylor did not allow the defending champions to exploit the situation and started going after the spinners because of which, Ashwin suffered his worst ODI figures of 10-0-75-1. The wicketkeeper-batsman did not reprieve Ravindra Jadeja (0/71) either as he smashed 25 runs in the 41st over off the left-armer.
A 109-run fifth-wicket partnership between Taylor and Craig Ervine (27), which resurrected the Zimbabwean innings, finally came to an end when Taylor was caught at mid-on off Mohit Sharma (3/48).
The crowd rose one last time to acknowledge Taylor’s contribution as Indian players went up to him to congratulate him on a fantastic career.
For India, pacers came good as Shami, Mohit and Yadav all picked up three wickets each. More importantly, they came back strongly to bowl out Zimbabwe for 287 in what was earlier looking like a 320-par total.