Ranchi: India paid the price for some poor shot selection as New Zealand clinched the fourth One-Day International (ODI) by 19 runs to level five-match series 2-2 in Ranchi on Wednesday.
Chasing a target of 281 on a slow track, India were on course at 128 for 2 before a sudden middle-order collapse saw them lose four quick wickets as they were finally all-out for 241 in 48.4 overs.
This was India's first loss at skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's home ground in all the international matches that they have played so far.
India's No 1 batsman Virat Kohli (45) and opener Ajinkya Rahane (57) added 79 runs for the second wicket, while skipper Dhoni disappointed the local fans, managing a sedate 11 off 31 balls before Jimmy Neesham cleaned him up.
He played 22 dot balls on Wednesday as he has now played more than 100 dot balls in his last three ODIs.
Especially against left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner (1/38), who bowled 34 dot balls in all and quite a few to Dhoni.
It was Rahane's leg before off Neesham that triggered a collapse with Dhoni following the suit. Tim Southee then dealt a telling blow by removing Manish Pandey (12) and Kedar Jadhav (0) off successive deliveries -- both out to poor choice of shots. From 128/2, India slumped to 154/6 in just five overs and it became the turning point of the match.
Pandey trying to clear mid-on was out when situation demanded a bit of discretion while Kedar was guilty of trying to hit across the line being adjudged plumb in-front.
Hardik Pandya's (9) inexperience also showed as he tried to hit an inside-out lofted shot despite a fielder being placed at the extra cover boundary.
Axar Patel (38) and Dhawal Kulkarni (25) did try but that was never going to be enough for the 'Men In Blue'.
Southee (3/48) and Boult (2/40) were again on the money, so was Neesham (2/38) donning the third seamer's role to perfection.
The spinners gave away 102 runs in their 24 overs and bowled 70 dots which is equivalent to 11.4 overs without runs.
Locked 2-2, the final one-dayer in Visakhapatnam 29 October will determine the winner of the five-match series.
In pursuit of 261 on a pitch with variable bounce, India started off positively with Rahane returning to form in his 57 from 70 balls that had five fours and a six. He along with Kohli laid the foundation before the chase went disarray.
Under pressure, Dhoni was slow off the blocks before Neesham accounted for both of them in successive overs. Once Pandey and Kedar were gone, India required 94 off 84 balls. Axar and Amit Mishra (14) revived their hopes in a 38-partnership from 37 balls. But Mishra was run out after a poor judgment, as it was all but over for India.
The match was interestingly poised for both the teams till Neesham got into the act.
The medium pacer had Rahane plumb in the second ball of his new spell. The Indian opener had done all the hard work and batted beautifully on a tricky track where the odd ball stayed low but his dismissal with more than 100 shy of the target put the spotlight on the local hero Dhoni.
The Indian limited-overs skipper looked under pressure and struggled to time the ball on the difficult pitch before being cleaned up by Neesham in the next over.
Practically-speaking, the chase was as good as over for the Kohli-dependent India, but the crowd did not mind anticipating a Dhoni special in his possible last appearance.
Amid chants of 'Dhoni, Dhoni' reverberating the stands, the Indian skipper made an entry with his casual gait and he took his time waiting for the perfect ball to flourish.
But the nature of the pitch let down Dhoni on more than one occasions as he had some mis-hits, and survived on till he completely missed the line to be bowled by Neesham.
At 135/4 in the 30th over, India needed a Kohli-like innings but there was no one to carry his bat through.
Pandey looked fluent with two elegant boundaries before Tom Latham timed his jump to perfection at mid-on to cut short his innings, as India lost Jadhav next ball to leave the chase in total disarray.
Earlier, Martin Guptill struck a fluent half-century but New Zealand failed to seize the momentum as Indian spinners did well to restrict them to a modest 260 for 7.
Opting to bat, New Zealand were off to their best start on the tour with Guptill slamming an 84-ball-72 studded with 12 boundaries.
Along with Tom Latham (39 from 40 balls; 4x4) he laid a solid foundation putting together 96 from 93 balls for the opening wicket before left-arm spinner Axar Patel (1/38) gave the much-needed breakthrough after a lacklustre performance by the seamers.
Guptill looked in full flow and completed his 31st ODI fifty from 56 balls, but Hardik Pandya ended the threat inducing a thin edge of the Kiwi opener midway into their innings.
With 184/2 after 35 overs and a set Kane Williamson in the middle, New Zealand were still in sight of 300. But Amit Mishra (2/41) took the crucial wickets of Williamson (41 from 59 balls; 4x4) and Jimmy Neesham (6) in successive overs to derail the visitors gameplan.
Williamson was foxed by the bounce and took an edge to Dhoni, while Neesham's mis-time found Kohli at cover as India did well to arrest their progress.
Patel returned with tidy figures of 1 for 38 from his quota, while part-time off-spinner Kedar Jadhav returned wicketless but conceded just 27 runs from his eight overs to put brakes on New Zealand's brisk start.
Kiwi skipper Williamson not only read the coin rightly for the first time in the series after three Tests and three ODIs, but he also read the pitch perfectly and opted to bat on a slow pitch with variable bounce.
Having started off with a maiden, India courtesy Kulkarni leaked 16 runs in the second over, a trend that continued till the powerplay with Guptill and Latham batting with ease against some lacklustre bowling by the seamers.
Brought in place of an indisposed Jasprit Bumrah in the solitary change to India XI, Kulkarni bowled full on a slow surface and Guptill, having assessed the condition in the first over, hit three exquisite boundaries to start off.
Yadav bowled with pace but the accuracy was missing and often was wayward down the leg, trying to get across the line against the left-handed Latham to a packed off-side field.
The left and right hand easily dissected the field with boundaries all around the wicket and Dhoni continued with this pair for 10 overs before Mishra and Patel were brought in.
From 80 without loss in 10 overs, the spin duo's tight bowling brought the run-rate down before Patel gave the breakthrough denying Latham (39) a sixth fifty on this tour.
The left-hander took a top-edge while trying for a slog sweep to a width delivery, before Rahane took the catch at short-fine leg.
Showing a renewed determination, New Zealand however sailed easily in the middle with Guptill joined by skipper Williamson.
The only blip in Guptill innings was when he went for a lofted shot over mid-on when on 29 with Mishra nearly pulling off a spectacular catch to his wrong side.
Guptill once again got a reprieve with Mishra at the receiving end when he was on 62 as the Indian leg-spinner failed to judge a high catch on the long-off boundary in what appeared that the afternoon sun obstructed his view.
But a smart bowling change by Dhoni who brought in Pandya, after a lengthy spell from the spinners, gave India the prized wicket of Guptill.
The Black Caps made three changes to their XI bolstering the spin attack with Ish Sodhi and Anton Devcich to go with Mitchell Santner, while wicketkeeper BJ Watling was included for the first time in the ODI series replacing Luke Ronchi.