Ton-up Dhoni fires India to victory

Mahendra Singh Dhoni smashed a blazing century to set up India’s crushing 117-run victory over New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up match on Wednesday.

The Indian skipper cracked three sixes and 11 fours in a 64-ball 108 not out to help his team post an imposing 360-5 and virtually bat New Zealand out of the day-night match in Chennai.

New Zealand were bowled out for 243 after a brisk 94-run stand for the opening wicket between Brendon McCullum (58) and Martin Guptill (38) to suffer their first defeat in two practice matches.  Jesse Ryder (32), Nathan McCullum (29 not out) and Scott Styris (20) were the other main contributors.

Indian spinners, who played a big role in their team’s win over defending champions Australia in a warm-up match on Sunday, again struck it rich as they shared seven wickets.

Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and part-time spinner Yuvraj Singh each took two wickets, while off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin bagged one.

“It’s a difficult task for any side when they have to chase six or seven runs an over. This is the way we should play all the time,” said Harbhajan Singh, who took 2-17.

“When you set that total, teams have to chase and it gives you the chance to get wickets as their batsmen look to do something.

“We have won our two warm-up games, but we are not taking anything for granted. It’s up to us now to keep it simple and stick to the basics.”  Dhoni and Suresh Raina (50) earlier gave a superb display of power-hitting to help their side set a stiff target, plundering 124 runs for the fifth wicket off just 56 balls.  Raina hit three sixes and four boundaries in a 26-ball knock.

Dhoni’s best came when he smashed paceman Jacob Oram for five successive fours, while Raina also punished the same bowler as he hit three sixes in an over. Oram conceded 70 runs in his nine overs.  Dhoni said India were able to achieve “a total that was above par”.

Speaking about his own game, he said: “In the past few games I have been in a hurry, but my game is different. I take my time and then like to stay until the end for the slog overs. You have got to remind yourself of your strengths.”

New Zealand stand-in skipper Ross Taylor said Dhoni had taken the game away from his side, adding: “Spinners are going to be a big part of the World Cup, and we have got to improve against them.”  The stage for the closing-overs onslaught was set by Gautam Gambhir (89) and Virat Kohli (59), who put on 106 for the third wicket after India lost openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar for 42 runs.

Record-breaking batsman Tendulkar, who recently missed the last three one-day internationals in South Africa due to a hamstring injury and was rested against Australia, contributed just 17.

His eagerly awaited return lasted 23 balls before he was deceived by a slower one from paceman Tim Southee and bowled.

India suffered another blow when hard-hitting Sehwag (23) was bowled by an Oram delivery that kept low, but Gambhir and Kohli steadied the innings with their sensible knocks.

Gambhir hit 11 fours in his 85-ball stay while Kohli hit seven boundaries in a 68-ball innings.

India open their World Cup campaign against Bangladesh in Dhaka on Saturday, while New Zealand take on Kenya in their first match the following day in Chennai.