Auckland | Suresh Raina hit a rollicking century as India recovered from a top-order collapse to prevail over minnows Zimbabwe by six wickets, finishing their group league engagements with a clean slate in the Cricket World Cup here today.
Riding on Raina’s brilliant unbeaten 110 and an equally important 85 by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India overhauled commendable target of 288 in 48.4 overs, recording their highest run chase in a World Cup match.
The defending champions finished with an all-win record in their six Group-B league matches thereby stretching their number of successive victories in the tournament to 10 over two editions surpassing Clive Lloyd’s West Indies record which stretched from start of 1975 Prudential Cup to the first match of 1983 edition (losing to India at Old Trafford).
They only have Australia in front of them with 24 straight wins between 1999 and 2011 editions, a feat achieved under Ricky Ponting’s captaincy.
The defending champions will now meet neighbours Bangladesh in the quarter-final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 19.
India were in a spot of bother at 92 for four when skipper Dhoni joined Raina as the duo sealed the match with a defining unbeaten 196-run record stand for the fifth wicket off 156 balls.
Raina, who scored his fifth ODI ton had nine fours and four sixes, in his innings. There were the customary muscular heaves over deep mid-wicket region for sixes as were the delicate late cuts.
While the first 50 came off 67 balls, the next one took only 27 deliveries as the UP left-hander suddenly put his foot on the accelerator. The only blemish in his innings was a mistimed sweep off Sikandar Raza that was dropped by Hamilton Masakadza at short fine leg when he was on 47.
Dhoni again played the role of anchor to perfection pacing his innings with precision hitting eight boundaries and two sixes in 76 balls en route his 57th ODI half-century.
It was a disastrous start for India as openers Rohit Sharma (16) and Shikhar Dhawan (4) went cheaply while Virat Kohli (34) frittered away a good start, so did Ajinkya Rahane (19) as Zimbabwe did try their best to push India hard.
But the experienced pair of Dhoni and Raina has seen India through in many such situations in the past and the opposition bowling didn’t have the quality to keep a check on them for long as the inevitable happened.
After playing himself in, it was in the 30th over when Raina released a bit of pressure with successive sixes off left-arm spinner Sean Williams. One was hit over deep mid-wicket while the other was into the first tier of the stands over long-on. That particular over yielded 15 runs and Indias chase was on track.
Dhoni then joined Raina to tee off with a couple of boundaries off medium pacer Solomon Mire. First was a pull-shot and it was followed by hard slash over point as the 50-run stand for the fifth wicket came off 57 balls. The 150 of the team duly came in the 34th over and there was no stopping after that.
Dhoni signalled India’s victory with a six, triggering off scenes of celebrations in the dressing rooms with the players hugging each other and shaking hands.
Earlier, Brendan Taylor played the innings of his life in his final ODI for Zimbabwe as his 138 helped the team manage 287 all out in 48.5 overs.
The total was highest by any country against India in the current edition surpassing Ireland’s 259 in the previous game.
Taking the Indian bowlers by the sword after being put into bat, Taylor smashed the white ball around the small Eden Park ground, cracking 15 boundaries and five sixes in his 110-ball stay.
Having scored his first 50 off 64 deliveries, Taylor scored his next 88 runs in only 46 balls as the three-figure mark was reached in 99 deliveries.
It was his eighth ODI century and highest by any Zimbabwean and also the first against India in this edition of the mega event.
He got a standing ovation from the Indian supporters as the likes of Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan congratulated the 29-year-old, who is migrating permanently to England after this match due to financial constraints.
This was also one of the matches where Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin (1/75 in 10 overs) and Ravindra Jadeja (0/71 in 10 overs) bore the brunt of the mayhem created by Taylor.
The pace trio held their own once again, as young Mohit Sharma (3/48 in 10 overs), Mohammed Shami (3/48 in 9 overs) and Umesh Yadav (3/43 in 9.5 overs) did well as the final five wickets went for 47 runs after Zimbabwe were 241 for five at one stage.
Taylor was well-supported by Sean Williams (50) as they added 93 for the fourth wicket while another 109 for the fifth wicket was added in company of Craig Ervine (27) after Zimbabwe were reduced to 33 for three in 11 overs.
At the start Hamilton Masakadza (2), Chamu Chibhabha (7) and Solomon Mire (9) were sent back by the three seamers as Zimbabwe were reduced to 33 for three in 11 overs.
It was time when Taylor was joined by Sean Williams as the two initiated a recovery process.
Stand-in captain Taylor showed positive intent after a cautious start while Williams held anchor at one end.
Among all the batsmen who have faced the duo of Ashwin-Jadeja in the tournament, the Taylor-Williams combination will stand for the manner in which they handled the Indian spin twins.
Taylor took a liking for Jadeja as he swept him on a number of occasions and the moment he dropped short gave him the charge.
The right-hander was also quick to pick Ashwin’s ‘doosras’ as he reverse swept him for two boundaries in one over.
As Taylor gave the charge, even Williams grew in confidence as he hit three sixes in the region between mid-wicket and deep mid-wicket off Ashwin.
The duo added 93 runs for the fourth wicket in 17.3 overs. Williams completed a well-deserved 50 off 55 balls before offering a low return catch to Ashwin. Williams had three sixes and three fours in his 57-ball knock.
But once Williams departed, Taylor upped the ante further as it started raining sixes one after another.
In fact all the sixes that Taylor hit were after his half-century mark as the length balls and the short of length balls ended up in the stands.