Astle orchestrates Kiwi triumph

Harare, September 6:

A magnificent unbeaten century from Nathan Astle guided New Zealand to a four-wicket victory over India in the triangular series final here today. Skipper Stephen Fleming hit 61 from 66 balls but two wickets fell in an over. But Astle reached 100 with a six and shared an unbroken 72 with Lou Vincent as victory came with 11 balls to spare. Mohammad Kaif hit an unbeaten 93 but India faltered after an opening stand of 72 in 13 overs, losing nine wickets for 121 in a total of 277. Sourav Ganguly hit three fours in an over from Kyle Mills, who was replaced by Jacob Oram after conceding 30 from his opening five overs. Oram then went for 12 himself in his first over before tempting Ganguly to drive to gully.

Kaif quickly got into his stride and took two fours in an over from Oram. Virender Sehwag brought up his fifty with a six over mid-off in a rapid 75. Daniel Vettori ousted him and then Rahul Dravid for a duck in one over. Having looked in ominous form with three boundaries in an over after passing fifty, Sehwag was deceived in the flight and lobbed up a catch to cover in the 25th over. It changed the complexion of the innings, with only 55 runs added for the loss of three wickets in the next 15 overs. Venugopal Rao briefly increased the scoring rate, advancing down the wicket to hoist Oram over mid-wicket for six, but attempting to repeat the shot three balls later he skied into the leg-side and Craig McMillan took a well-judged catch.

The first over of the New Zealand reply was a maiden, but it was the fifth that witnessed a change of tempo. Fleming hammered five fours off Irfan Pathan and three more followed from Astle in the next by Ajit Agarkar. Sehwag ousted Fleming with a slower one that prompted a return catch, and in the same over Hayden Marshall went back to a flatter one and fell third ball for three. Astle reached fifty in the 20th over, cutting Harbhajan Singh to the boundary. The scoring slowed and with 11 overs remaining 68 was still needed. A profitable 45th over put the Black Caps back in command, however, Harbhajan being launched for six as Astle reached three figures and Vincent taking two more boundaries. Vincent, dropped at deep mid-wicket by Dravid when 26, hit the winning runs with a boundary off Agarkar.