Wellington, Feb 3 (PTI) The Indian top-order struggled again in testing conditions before Ambati Rayudu and Hardik Pandya powered the visitors to a fighting 252 in the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand here on Sunday.
India's middle-order, which has been under scrutiny, delivered under pressure after the visitors were left gasping at 18 for four.
Rayudu (90 off 113) and Vijay Shankar (45 off 64) shared a 98-run stand for the fifth wicket to lead India's recovery before a spectacular cameo from Hardik Pandya (45 off 22) pushed India past 250.
Pacer Matt Henry was the standout bowler for the hosts, taking four wickets for 35 runs while Trent Boult picked up three for 39.
After a 'humiliating' loss in the fourth ODI in which India were shot out for 92, captain Rohit Sharma won the toss and took the challenge of batting first on a surface aiding the fast bowlers.
India made three changes in the playing eleven.
A fit again Mahendra Singh Dhoni was back in the team in place of Dinesh Karthik while Mohammad Shami and Shankar replaced Khaleel Ahmed and Kuldeep Yadav. The chinaman bowler was rested from the game.
The ball swung at the Westpac Stadium, like it did at Hamilton, and troubled the Indian batsmen including the experienced opening pair of Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan.
Boult, who took five wickets on Thursday, and Henry swung the ball at express pace and shared two wickets each to leave India reeling at 18 for four in seven overs. At that stage, another sub-100 total from India looked very much a possibility.
It was a combination of top-class fast bowling and questionable shot selection that led to the top-order failure. Rohit (2) was outdone by a beauty from Henry, the one that moved away from the middle stump line to dislodge the off-stump.
Dhoni (1), playing after the missing the last two games due to injury, was bowled by Boult, a peach of a delivery that swung back sharp and late to take the Indian wicketkeeper's off-stump. On the other hand, Shikhar Dhawan slashed one hard to be caught at third man while the young Shubman Gill, getting his second game of the series, scooped a simple catch to the cover fielder.
Just when India looked down in the dumps, Rayudu and and Shankar showed admirable fight to weather the storm and lead India's recovery. Initially in the partnership, Shankar looked more comfortable while Rayudu focused on blocking. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder was sent ahead of Kedar Jadhav at number six, indicating the team management's faith in his abilities.
It was unfortunate for Shankar to miss out on well-deserved fifty as he got run out after a mix-up with Rayudu.
Rayudu at the other end began to play his strokes and hammered Colin de Grandhomme for two consecutive boundaries to bring up his 10th ODI fifty. A little later, he smashed Colin Munro for successive sixes before he perished after trying to hit another one out of the park. Rayudu's crucial knock comprised eight fours and four sixes.
Pandya took the centrestage after Rayudu's fall and once again showed what he brings to the table late the innings.
Pandya's brute power was on full display when he whacked leggie Todd Astle for three sixes in as many balls. The all-rounder did not even spare the in-form Boult, pulling him over midwicket for another maximum. His cameo included two fours and five sixes. PTI
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