BANGALORE: India's old failings surfaced momentarily, but were quelled in time as they pulled off their fifth-highest Test match pursuit to beat New Zealand by five wickets here, on Monday. Set a target of 261, the home side suffered from a clutch of quick dismissals, twice over, and were tottering on 166-5 before Virat Kohli (51*) and skipper MS Dhoni (48*) sealed things with a timely, unbeaten 96-run stand.
The 2-0 series win was hard achieved, especially after New Zealand had removed the cream of the batting order following following a racy start by the Indian openers. Virender Sehwag (38) and Gautam Gambhir (34) started with a rollicking 77-run stand and after their dismissals, Cheteshwar Pujara (48) and Sachin Tendulkar (27) tided over a testing period before lunch to steady the boat with a partnership of 69 runs.
A few overs after the early tea break - necessitated by a drizzle - both Tendulkar and Pujara were dismissed, and Suresh Raina's horrendous departure meant that India were half the side down, still 95 adrift. But Kohli and Dhoni saved the day with their purposeful association, garnering a much-needed series win ahead of a long home season.
Kohli, who scored his second Test century in the first essay, interspersed his circumspection with some gorgeous cover drives off the Kiwi seamers. As the target approached, Kohli went ballistic, creaming three boundaries off Tim Southee to bring up his fifty. Dhoni was, well, his customary practical self, shovelling for runs when they didn't come in any other way. With five needed, Dhoni ended things the way everybody's come to expect of him - with a six bludgeoned off Jeetan Patel.
Kohli (103 & 51*) was named Man of the Match, while R. Ashwin (18 wickets) was declared Man of the Series.
Sehwag-Gambhir come good
India had cleaned up New Zealand for the addition of just 17 runs - a lead of 261 - in the morning and began hastily through Sehwag, who put faith again in his innate instinct to attack, and Gambhir. Trent Boult and Tim Southee shared the new ball, and India stole a boundary in each of the first eight overs. Gambhir started the rampage and even outscored Sehwag 32 to 15. The southpaw had struggled with his footwork of late, but was particular severe on Boult in his first spell.
He launched assertively into half-volleys and dropped back to slash marginally short ones. A brace of boundaries off Bracewell gave Gambhir-Sehwag their first 50 partnership in 12 innings. Then Sehwag took over. He smacked three fours in a Bracewell over, including a spanking straight drive, and when Jeetan Patel came on with his off-spin, thwacked a six over long-off.
Another four off Patel - a vicious slash past point - was to be Sehwag's last hurrah. On the next ball, he charged wildly down the wicket, missed the line, and was bowled for 38, leaving India at 77-1, requiring 184 more to win.
Sehwag's dismissal subdued Gambhir. The Delhi opener was on 33 off 38 balls when he lost his partner, After that, he added just one in 20 balls, as Boult returned for a markedly improved second spell. Gambhir had played chancily at the ball shaping away, and it was one such Boult delivery that finally consumed him following a wild slash - caught by Ross Taylor at first slip.
The Kiwis tightened things in the last half-hour of the first session, conceding just 11 in the last 8 overs. Pujara and Tendulkar endured a testing session to the break. Boult had bowled Tendulkar in the first Test and this time too posed serious questions to the master, who survived a close leg-before call minutes before lunch. From the other end, Bracewell beat Pujara's outside edge, and India went into the break at 88 for two, needing 173 more for a win.
Pujara's preferred method of tackling the short ball was gloriously displayed immediately after resumption. Boult and Bracewell were either banging it in short or lobbing juicy half-volleys, and Pujara was adept at handling both. He took a brace of fours each off Boult and Bracewell- hooking, pulling, slashing - and reducing the target to under 150.
First innings hero Tim Southee was introduced shortly. He didn't give too many, nor did he threaten. Tendulkar got going with a four pushed through cover off Bracewell, his first boundary, and paddled Patel from outside off to the fine leg fence. On the next ball, Patel had the maestro squared up at the crease, as the ball fell harmlessly in the vacant silly point region.
Tendulkar then turned back the clock with successive boundaries punched through the off-side off Southee, and later in the same over - when more width was provided - Pujara followed suit through cover. The target had been rapidly pulled back to 114 when a drizzle comes down, the Pujara-Tendulkar pair having added 64 to wrest back the initiative.
Kiwis strike, Sachin bowled again
New Zealand hit back with three key wickets in the final session, after the rain delay. In the second over since resumption, Tendulkar gained a streaky four between slip and gully off Southee, but the bowler struck on the next ball, scrambling the seam, getting one to shape in, and flattening the great man's middle stump after grazing the pad.
This was Tendulkar's third bowled dismissal in as many innings this series and, with scores of 19, 17 and 27, outcries for his superannuation are sure to rise again. Six runs later, Pujara fell to Patel and some stunning catching by Daniel Flynn, who ran hastily back from short-leg and held on to the ball through a dive.
Before a salvage act could be put in place, Suresh Raina, having played 10 balls for no score, was the fifth man out when he was bowled attempting a horrible hoick against Patel. Half the side gone, and 95 to win, and the perfect men for the job - Kohli and skipper MS Dhoni - out in the middle.
Kohli got off the mark off the 16th ball he faced, with a boundary off Boult, and was composed throughout the duration of his stay, despite Southee trying his best to get into the batsman's hair. Dhoni played and missed, and then missed some more, before finally driving Boult through cover for his first boundary and top-edging Patel all the way for six over long leg. The two increased their pace frenetically as the target approached and eventually took India home.
NZ cleaned up
Earlier, New Zealand resumed on a lead of 244 and added 17 to it before the last wicket fell. India had to wait five overs for success, and it came in the form of a questionable decision.
Patel, who had struck spirited boundaries off Zaheer and Umesh to take the lead north of 250, was adjuded caught behind off the left-arm paceman when there appeared to be a sizeable gap between bat and ball. But umpire Ian Gould apparently thought otherwise and raised his finger after some serious thought.
Meanwhile, wicketkeeper-batsman Kruger van Wyk, who had been struck on the arm by Umesh Yadav on Sunday, was ruled out of the match. Brendon McCullum kept wicket in his stead, while BJ Watling replaced van Wyk in the field. India were thus set a target of 261, which was chased down and recorded as the highest successful chase in Tests in Bangalore.