Mohali: Virat Kohli produced another breathtaking effort as his superbly-crafted 154 not out enabled India to cruise to an easy seven-wicket victory in the third ODI against New Zealand in Mohali on Sunday.
India thus lead the five-match series 2-1.
Kohli's 134-ball knock was ably complemented by captain MS Dhoni (80 off 91) as the duo forged a 151-run partnership off 163 balls to effectively seal the match with 10 balls to spare after the home team made a shaky start in their pursuit of 286.
Dhoni for one promoted himself up the order after much deliberation and it did yield results.
The visitors had earlier suffered a batting collapse before Jimmy Neesham (57) and Matt Henry (39*) came up with a 84-run stand for the ninth wicket to take their side to a competitive total.
Eventually, it was India's No 1 batsman Kohli, who got the job done with ridiculous ease. Amassing hundreds at a staggering rate, Sunday's knock was his 26th one in ODIs. He has now scored three hundreds in his last seven ODI innings and has a batting average of 52-plus in 174 matches. He hit 16 boundaries and a six.
India's batting mainstay also had luck on side as he was dropped on 6 by Ross Taylor, who could not hold to a regulation catch standing at a wide slip on the bowling off Henry.
Dhoni's effort in the circumstances was also a valuable one. With India in a spot of bother, he promoted himself at number four and was involved in a match-winning stand with Kohli.
On the way to his first half century in 11 innings, Dhoni completed 9,000 runs to become the fifth Indian to do so after Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Azharuddin. He also surpassed Tendulkar to become the Indian player with most sixes in ODIs.
At a packed PCA stadium, the dew also played its part in the evening keeping the grounds men busy during drinks break. India felt the pressure at the start of the chase. Openers Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, who were not among the runs in the earlier games, fell cheaply once again.
Rahane spooned a simple catch to cover off Matt Henry, before Rohit failed to pick a slow off-cutter from pacer Tim Southee, leaving India at 41 for two in the ninth over.
While Kohli looked in sublime touch at the other end, Dhoni promoted himself at number four ahead of Manish Pandey in his bid to lead from the front in a tricky situation.
Both Dhoni and Kohli looked in good touch. The pressure of performing was more on Dhoni and 'Captain Cool' went about his business in signature style.
Dhoni made good use of his feet, both to the pacers and spinners. His first boundary was a pull off Tim Southee before smashing left-arm spinner Santer for a straight six to cross the 9,000-run mark. Dhoni ended up with six fours and three sixes.
Kohli was all class from the word 'go'. After getting a reprieve from Taylor, he was unstoppable. It was only fitting that he stayed unbeaten till the end. He ended the game in exhilarating fashion, punishing Trent Boult for three fours and a six in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the game.
Pandey too remained unbeaten on 24 and hit the winning boundary . The duo shared a 97-run stand for the fourth wicket.
New Zealand were set for their first 300-plus total of the series after Tom Latham (61) and Taylor (44) laid the foundation with a solid 73-run stand for the third wicket.
Taylor's dismissal led to a flurry of wickets though New Zealand still managed to reach close to the 300-milestone, thanks to a valiant partnership between Neesham (57 off 47) and Henry (39 no off 37).
It seemed New Zealand would not last even 40 overs after slumping from a promising 153 for 2, before Neesham and Matt Henry brought the game alive.
For India, Amit Mishra and Kedar Jadhav were among the wickets again, taking two and three respectively. Pacer Umesh Yadav scalped three wickets as well but proved expensive, giving away 75 runs in 10 overs.
After losing their seventh straight toss on the tour, New Zealand were expectedly put in to bat by India captain Dhoni considering the dew factor.
With the ball coming nicely on to the bat, New Zealand were off to their best start of the series coasting to 64 for one in 10 overs.
If the visitors were to pose a challenging for the hosts, it was imperative that senior batsmen, opener Martin Guptill (27) and Taylor, struck some form.
Guptill, who had 171 runs in eight innings on this tour prior to Sunday, began on a promising note. He hit Umesh Yadav on the up for a cracking four through point before dispatching Hardik Pandya for a comfortable six over long on. The opener followed it up with another straight six over extra cover and a slash through point in Pandya's subsequent over.
The in-form Latham was batting patiently at the other end. He got into the act by pulling Yadav for a six. And just when it seemed Guptill was set to end his barren run, Yadav trapped him in front of the stumps with a fuller length ball that moved in sharply.
Skipper Kane Williamson (22) joined Latham in the middle and got off the mark with a gentle push past mid-on.
High on confidence after scoring a fluent hundred in Delhi, Williamson looked in fine form until he failed to spot a straighter one off part-time spinner Jadhav to leave his team at 80 for two in 13 overs.
Dhoni brought him ahead of specialist spinners and he was quick to repay his captain's faith, just like he did in the earlier games.
New Zealand needed a partnership to get going again. That was when Latham and Taylor stitched a solid 73-run stand to steady the innings.
With pitch playing true and Taylor getting back among runs, first 300-plus score of the series was a straight forward task.
In Indian conditions, when Taylor gets cut shots right, one knows he is feeling good about his game. That is what happened on Sunday as he slashed and swept smoothly to go with a few lusty hits.
However, he too could not go on to make his first half century of the tour after getting deceived by a beauty from Mishra. The leggie got one to drift in and turn away to have Taylor stumped. That wicket triggered a middle-order collapse for the second game in row and New Zealand found themselves reeling at 180 for 7 from a promising 151 for 2.
Mishra and Jadhav did the bulk of the damage as New Zealand's hopes of a formidable total were dashed in quick time. Jadhav ended with figures of 3 for 29 in five overs while Mishra conceded 46 runs and took couple of wickets in 10 overs.