Virendra Sehwag smashed a century off 68 balls to power India to an emphatic seven-wicket win over New Zealand here today for a place in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup today.
Sehwag's blitzkrieg 100, that contained 19 fours and a six, enabled India overhaul New Zealand's 264 for seven comfortably in 45.4 overs to ensure a meeting with Sri Lanka in the final on Sunday.
Sehwag's hundred, the sixth fastest in limited overs cricket, outshone the brilliant knock of 108 by Nathan Astle which saw New Zealand pile up the highest score of the tournament after electing to bat.
Faced with a daunting task of scoring at 5.3 runs an over against the Kiwis, who had beaten them comprehensively in the previous two matches, India produced their best batting performance with the opening pair of Saurav Ganguly and Sehwag putting up 143 runs in 23 overs.
That stand really set the stage for India's win - their third straight in the series after they had lost their opening three matches, with the later batsmen capitalising on the foundation to cruise home with ease.
The victory put India in the second spot with six points, behind Sri Lanka who have already qualified for the final with four wins and eight points. New Zealand, with two wins, were knocked out. India have defeated Sri Lanka in the previous two matches in this series.
The Indians, who had floundered in the first 15 overs in all the previous matches, were off to a flying start with Sehwag in terrific touch. New Zealand, who expected India to make a cautious start to their run-chase, were in for a shock when Sehwag unleashed a flurry of boundaries, punishing every bowler with equal contempt.
The flow of runs started in the sixth over when Sehwag hit Kyle Mills for four fours including three in succession. He followed it up with four boundaries and a six in the 11th over by Darryl Tuffey.
That trend continued till the first 15 overs and by then Sehwag had accumulated 17 fours and a six. The best thing about Sehwag's knock was that all his shots were clean hits and there was no element of slogging. Except for a snick that flew to the third man boundary, Sehwag was in total control of all his shots.
Sehwag raced to his fifty in just 29 balls which was laced with 12 boundaries. Within the next few overs, he was in his eighties leaving Ganguly, who took his time to settle down, far behind. Eyeing his maiden one-day century, Sehwag slowed down a bit in his eighties, as the clueless New Zealanders heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Ganguly also started to time the ball better and scored a couple of boundaries off Dion Nash and Daniel Vettori to boost up his confidence. Sehwag survived a scare on 96 when wicketkeeper Adam Parore missed a simple stumping chance off Vettori in the 21st over.
The right-hander from Delhi did not give the Kiwis another chance and duly completed his hundred with a quick single off Vettori. He, however was out in the very next over when an inside egde off Craig McMillan crashed on to his stumps.
India suffered another setback in McMillan's next over, with V.V.S. Laxman getting clean bowled without opening his account.
With two quick wickets, New Zealand started hoping for a comeback which however was not allowed by Ganguly and Rahul Dravid who has been India's most consistent batsman in this series.
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