India's hopes of winning the Coca-Cola Cup in Sri Lanka were dealt a crushing blow at the Premadasa International Stadium on Thursday when the Clear Black Caps defeated them by 67 runs.
India still have a chance of qualifying for the final on August 5, but, to be sure, they need to win their remaining three games and hope that Sri Lanka defeat New Zealand at the Sinhalese Sports Club next week. If they win just two then they are reliant on the vagaries of net run rates and the Kiwis losing all their remaining games.
This seems unlikely after another fighting team performance by New Zealand today. Fresh from their demoralising defeat yesterday and with their captain laid low with a stomach bug, plus a number of other players feeling wheezy, they won the match despite scoring the lowest total of the tournament batting first so far.
Sourav Ganguly's decision to field first after the delayed start this morning raised eyebrows, but it looked to have been an inspired decision when New Zealand slipped to 143 for seven in the 36th over of their innings.
But Dion Nash, back in the side having recovered from the stomach bug, rescued the innings with 42 from 56 balls. Adding 43 runs for the eighth wicket with Daniel Vettori (19) he carried the Kiwis to the psychological 200 mark.
Required to score 201 for victory, Sourav Ganguly returned to his normal opening slot and choose Virender Sehwag as his partner. They started disastrously, losing both VVS Laxman and Ganguly within the first three overs - the Indian captain trapped lbw by an inswinger from Kyle Mills and Laxman bowled off the inside edge, as he wafted carelessly away from his body.
Rahul Dravid (27) and Sehwag (33) bolstered Indian hopes with a 50-run partnership in 13 overs. Dravid was his normal silky self and was batting in an assured manner, whilst Sehwag was impressive. Similar in build and style to Sachin Tendulkar - a player they miss so obviously and greatly - he forced through the covers for consecutive fours and clipped dismissively over mid-wicket.
Daniel Vettori, however, came on to bowl and broke through in a fortuitous manner. Dravid drove powerfully back to the bowler and the quick-witted spinner fielded. Aware that Sehwag was momentarily stranded having backed up, he rolled over and flicked the ball onto the stumps.
Two overs later Hemang Badani self destructed and charged down the wicket to sky a running catch to the bearded Craig McMillan at mid off. India were 66 for four.
Returned to the middle order position that brought him initial success, but scant rewards thereafter, Yuvraj Singh (27) finally started to strike the ball with the power that makes him so exciting and his recent failures so frustrating.
Yuvraj added 33 with Dravid and fresh life was being breathed into the innings, when Dravid flicked lazily across the line, only to miss the ball and see it bounce off pad onto the stumps.
Dravid's dismissal singled the end and, as dark clouds hung over this sparsely attended concrete stadium, India's batsmen wilted, losing their last five wickets for 23 runs.
Earlier, the Kiwi top order made full use of the fielding restrictions, racing to 82 for one in the first 15 overs. The introduction of the slower bowlers quickly quelled that run rate though.
Ganguly bowled from the Maligawatte End and had Matthew Sinclair (36) caught at mid on, whilst Harbhajan Singh probed diligently from the Khettarama End. Jacaob Oram (40) won the first round when he smashed the off spinner for 12 in his second, but Harbhajan won the contest as he was caught at slip while trying to reverse sweep.
The New Zealand middle order spluttered along without ever firing. Wickets were lost steadily and the run scoring plummeted to barely three per over until Dion Nash found a willing partner in Daniel Vettori. It turned out to be the partnership that turned the game.