India made bold moves, some logical and some totally out of context, but it boiled down to Indian bowling that caved in once again and failed to defend a competitive 278 for 5, which New Zealand overhauled to win by seven wickets and with 11 balls to spare - thanks to Ross Taylor's 112 not out. The win also gave New Zealand a series-winning 3-0 lead with one game to play. Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina were dropped, Virat Kohli was asked to open and Ajinkya Rahane took Kohli's No. 3 position. But nothing worked other than a return-to-form 79 by Rohit Sharma, and the task to provide the final push fell again upon MS Dhoni, who didn't disappoint and scored 79* in a 127-run unbroken partnership with Ravindra Jadeja (62*) to take the innings out of the woods that it found itself in at 151 for 5. But the bowlers, who this time had to defend the target after Dhoni changed his chase-all strategy by deciding to bat first, put up another flop show to lose the game.
It was after 18 games that Dhoni decided to bat first, but it didn't bring India their first ODI win of 2014. Beside Taylor's ninth ODI century, which included 15 fours, New Zealand's win hinged on Kane Williamson's (60) fourth consecutive half-century and his 130-run stand with Taylor after openers Jesse Ryder (19) and Martin Guptill (35) set a 54-run foundation. Varun Aaron and Mohammad Shami took one wicket apiece by dismissing Ryder and Guptill respectively, while Williamson was run out by Jadeja. R Ashwin (0 for 41) and Jadeja (0 for 33) looked the most effective but failed to take any wickets despite keeping a lid on the scoring. Shami proved expensive for the second game in a row, giving away 61 runs in eight overs; and despite generating good pace, Aaron failed to control his length in 6.1 overs that accrued 51 runs for the Kiwis. Bhuvneshwar Kumar failed to provide initial breakthroughs and remained wicketless in his 10 overs that leaked 62 runs. Dhoni used debutant Stuart Binny for just one over while Rayudu went for 23 in his three.
Earlier, in a must-win game, Dhoni answered most calls of the experts and critics. The skipper gave away his stubborn gown to drop the misfiring Raina and Dhawan. But asking Kohli to open was going a bit too far, especially when Rahane had opened earlier in ODIs. Not only did Kohli (2) and Rahane (3) failed, it put a lot of pressure on Ambati Rayudu who was brought in for Raina. But Rayudu responded well and with a back-in-form Rohit Sharma looked like bringing the innings back on track. But after adding 79 for the third wicket, Rayudu was sent back by Hamish Bennett after contributing 37 in that partnership. Dhoni then answered another popular call by pushing himself up at No. 5. By then, Rohit had brought up his fifty, grown in confidence and started rowing India out of troubled waters with his skipper at the other end. But 41 runs after the fall of Rayudu, Rohit (79) too made his walk back to the pavillion when part-time spinner Williamson had him caught by wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi.
It was a harmless-looking delivery on the leg stump but Rohit's attempt to glance it went almost off the face of the bat and into Ronchi's gloves. Surprisingly, R Ashwin came ahead of Jadeja and Binny. He got off the mark with a boundary but could score just five before Southee ended his stay. At 151 for 5, India looked knee deep in trouble but Dhoni and Jadeja had other ideas. The duo played out the batting Powerplay intelligently, seeing McCullum use five overs from his best bowlers. But once inside the last 10 overs of the innings, both unleashed themselves displaying a wide array of strokes to complete their respective half centuries - Dhoni in 58 balls and Jadeja in 46. Dhoni struck 6 four and 3 sixes in his 73-ball 79* while Jadeja hammered 8 boundaries and 2 sixes in his 54-ball 62* as the two pushed India past 275. Southee was the most successful bowler for the Black Caps, taking 2 for 36.
Kyle Mills, Bennett and Williamson bagged one wicket each. The inconsequential last ODI will be played on Jan 31 at Wellington. Even if India go on to win that game, they will stay No. 2 in the ICC ODI rankings with Australia at No. 1.