Mohammad Kaif scored a century as India registered a comfortable six-wicket victory over New Zealand in the fifth One-Day International of the Videocon Cup tri-series at the Harare Sports Club in Harare, on Friday.
The right-hander scored 102 off 121 balls, inclusive of 11 boundaries, as India easily overhauled a stiff target of 279, with 15 balls to spare.
Virender Sehwag provided India a breezy start, scoring 45 from 34 balls, but it was Kaif who held the team together in the middle overs.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni then sizzled in the final overs, scoring 37 off 27 balls, as India cruised to victory.
India qualified for the final against New Zealand. Zimbabwe, who lost all their three matches, are out of the running.
Earlier, New Zealand produced a stellar batting display to amass a healthy 278 for 9 in their 50 overs.
Scott Styris top-scored with 56 and put on 87 runs for the fifth wicket with Craig McMillan, who scored 40. Stephen Fleming's quick 47 had provided them a good start.
For India, Jai Prakash Yadav proved his utility with the ball, taking one wicket for 34 in 10 overs and maintaining control over the batsmen in the middle overs.
Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan took two wickets each, but conceded too many runs.
New Zealand innings:
New Zealand had a new opening pair. Stephen Fleming opened with Nathan Astle. Regular opener Lou Vincent, who had scored a blazing 172 in the first match of the series against Zimbabwe, was dropped to no. 3.
Fleming aggregated 1000 runs against India in ODIs when he hit his second boundary to take his score to 11. The New Zealand captain's record against India in ODIs is not very impressive. Before this match, he had scored 990 runs in 38 ODIs at 30.94, with eight half-centuries.
New Zealand progressed to 28 for no loss after five overs as the two opening bowlers, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan, failed to impress on a pitch that was supposed to assist the bowlers.
Ajit Agarkar was introduced early in the sixth over, and immediately got a few deliveries to swing, leaving Astle clueless.
New Zealand escaped the first 10 overs unscathed, reaching 44 for no loss, as the confidence of the two openers grew after a slow and cautious start. Fleming showed Pathan scant respect when he dispatched the left-armer over long-off for a huge six to bring up the 50 partnership for the opening wicket.
Agarkar got the first wicket with the first ball of the 11th over. He forced Astle to edge a perfectly pitched outswinger to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Astle, who scored 11, provided New Zealand a good launching pad, putting on 54 runs for the first wicket with Fleming. (54-1, 11.1)
Agarkar was proving to be a difficult customer for New Zealand as his four overs yielded just eight runs for a wicket, while Nehra (4 overs for 26) and Pathan (5 overs for 29) looked listless as New Zealand gradually started upping the run rate.
Vincent announced himself with a couple of lofted boundaries over long-on and a sweetly timed boundary on the off-side to race to 18 off 11 balls. New Zealand, after a slow start, were comfortably placed at 81 for 1 after 15 overs and Ganguly delayed the use of the third powerplay.
Agarkar accounted for the second wicket, showing some quick thinking to run out Fleming with a direct hit. Fleming got an inside edge as the ball dropped close to the pitch and Agarkar, on his follow through, raced to the ball and hit the stumps at the bowler's end. (83-2, 15.2)
With a new batsman in Hamish Marshall at the wicket, Ganguly came up with some quick thinking to take the third powerplay at the end of the 16th over. The 18th over of the innings, bowled by Agarkar, went for 14 runs as Vincent raced to 37 off 23 balls.
A magical piece of fielding by Yuvraj Singh got India the third wicket, a direct throw to run out the dangerous looking Vincent. First, Yuvraj produced a brilliant full-length dive to stop the ball at backward point and then recovered quickly enough to produce a direct hit at the batsmen's end. (103-3, 18.2)
Spin was introduced after 20 overs as Harbhajan Singh was brought into the attack with New Zealand on 108 for 3. He was immediately attacked as Hamish Marshall stepped down the wicket and hit him for a six over long-off.
Jai Prakash Yadav proved his utility when he bowled Marshal for 8. The Railways all-rounder, maintaining a straight line and length, forced Marshall to try something different and the batsman responded as he tried to play the ball on the leg-side, but missed it completely. (115-4, 21.3)
Marshall, supposed to be one of New Zealand's brightest talents, has come a cropper in this tournament, scoring just 24 runs in four matches, at a lowly average of 8.00.
The Indians responded well after New Zealand got off to a flier. At one stage the Kiwis were cruising at 81 for one after 15 overs, but in the next 15 overs, they were pegged back at 142 for 4 after 30 overs as a result of some brilliant fielding and disciplined bowling.
Yadav, in particular, was impressive with the ball, conceding just 15 runs in his six overs. And his success prompted Ganguly to introduce himself into the attack, but he went for a boundary off the very first ball he bowled and quietly handed back the ball to Harbhajan after giving away five in his first over.
Stryis, who reached 2000 runs in ODIs, when his moved to 23, survived a close leg before wicket shout against Pathan in the 34th over. Even replays suggested the ball looked destined to hit the stumps, but the umpire thought otherwise.
Yadav nearly got his second wicket in the 40th over, when Craig McMillan, on 32, tried to play a fine sweep, but it went straight to Pathan, at short fine leg, who spilled the simple offering.
Between the 30th and 40th over, New Zealand were made to work hard for their runs. Most of them came in singles and twos, with only three boundaries being hit as they reached 196 for 4 after 40 overs.
They lost their fifth wicket, that of McMillan, when Agarkar came back to claim his second wicket. McMillan gave himself room and tried to launch the ball over covers, but failed to connect and it crashed on to his off-stump. (202-5, 41.2)
McMillan, who scored 40, added 87 runs in 19.5 overs for the fifth wicket with Styris.
Yadav finished his spell with respectable figures of 34 for 1 in his 10 overs, playing a key role in controlling the run rate in the middle overs. The 31-year-old is proving to be quite a useful player for India in the tournament, both with the bat and ball.
McCullum took heavy toll of Agarkar in his final over, taking 20 runs from it. He hit him for three boundaries and a huge six over midwicket as the Kiwis raced to 243 for 5 after 46 overs. That costly over ruined Agarkar's bowling figures and he finished with 61 for 1 in his 10.
At the other end, Stryis played steadily to score a half-century off 84 balls.
Nehra got India the vital breakthrough, claiming the wicket of McCullum, who was caught by Kaif. The Kiwi wicketkeeper tried to hit Nehra over the off-side but ended up spooning a high catch to Kaif in the cover region. (244-6, 46.3)
McCullum's innings -- a quickfire 28 off 21 balls, inclusive of three boundaries and two sixes -- had given New Zealand the necessary push in the final overs.
Jacob Oram entertained with a quickfire 14 off five balls, hitting Pathan for 19 runs, but he was dismissed off the last ball of the over, caught by Ganguly at mid-off. (266-7, 48)
The eighth wicket fell in the next over when Stryis, on 56, was deceived by a slower ball from Nehra, only to be caught by Virender Sehwag at square leg. (267-8, 48.2)
Wickets kept tumbling and Pathan picked his second wicket in the final over of the innings when Andre Adams holed out to Agarkar, at long-off, after scoring 3. (271-9, 49.2)
Chris Cairns scrambled a few in the last over as New Zealand ended up with a huge 278 for 9 in their 50 overs. They scored 82 runs in the final ten overs, losing five wickets in the process.
The star bowler for India was Yadav, who showed good control and discipline, taking 34 for 1 in his 10 overs.
For India, the three fast bowlers -- Agarkar (2 for 61), Nehra (2 for 57) and Pathan (2 for 60) -- took three wickets each, but in the end went for too many runs.
India again could not take advantage of the supersub rule. Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik was the supersub, and now there is no way he be could be used during the huge run chase. The Kiwis, meanwhile, can call on their supersub, off-spinner Jeetan Patel, any time when they bowl.
New Zealand made use of the Supersub rule immediately, getting Jeetan Patel in the eleven in place of McMillan.
For the Indian openers -- Ganguly and Sehwag -- it was a welcome sight not having to face the express pace of Shane Bond, but a huge chase of 279 is always difficult.
Kyle Mills and Andre Adams took the new ball, but India still needed to get them away and score quickly in the first 10 overs.
Sehwag took just five balls to score his first boundary. He then made Adams pay dearly, carting him for 21 runs in the fourth over, which included three boundaries on the off-side and a pull on the leg-side, as India raced to 38 for no loss after four overs.
In the next over, Ganguly followed suit, scoring two boundaries off Mills. India had made a brave start in their run chase, getting 46 off five overs with Sehwag scoring 26 off 14 balls.
India suffered a blow when Ganguly was again dismissed to a short ball, trying to pull Mills, but ended up giving Jeetan Patel a simple catch at fine leg. (66-1, 6.5)
Sehwag, who hadn't scored a half-century in 13 innings, looked determined to play a big knock as he attacked on both sides of the wicket. But just as he began to settle down after a quick start, Oram pegged back his off-stump with a quicker incoming delivery. (75-2, 9.2)
Sehwag scored 45 from 34 balls, hitting six boundaries, but his wicket seemed to have given the Kiwis the edge in this tight contest. India reached 75 for 2 after 10 overs, but it remained to be seen whether the struggling Indian middle order could come good today.
The blazing start by Sehwag offered Dravid and Kaif the luxury to play out some overs to get settled even though the second Powerplay was in operation after the 10th over.
Kaif settled quick enough and pounded Cairns for two boundaries in the 15th over as India reached a comfortable 102 for 2, well ahead of New Zealand, who were 81 for 1 at the same stage.
Adams, who went for 29 runs in his two overs, came back for his second spell. This time he got the treatment from Dravid, who hit him for two sweetly timed boundaries on the off-side in the 16th over.
After 20 overs, India still held the upper hand, having reached 121 for 2.
Very soon, the two batsmen reached the 50 of their partnership off 71 balls in the 22nd over, with Kaif, on 38, contributing a majority of the runs.
Watching the effect Yadav had on them, New Zealand captain Fleming introduced medium pacer Astle in the 24th over. He replaced Adams, who was taken apart for 52 runs in his six overs.
But even he was guilty of bowling on the legs, as Dravid hit him for a boundary. As many as five boundaries were hit in the last three overs, with India scoring 26 from them, taking the score to 150 for 2 after 24 overs.
Kaif reached his 14th ODI half-century off 54 balls, with eight sweetly timed boundaries, and his partnership with Dravid was steadily taking India towards the target.
Stryis came into the attack in the 29th over and almost struck with his first delivery. But, to his dismay, Marshall dropped an easy catch at backward point. The absence of Daniel Vettori was proving to be a key factor in the middle overs as India coasted along to 175 for 2 after 30 overs, still needing another 104 runs in 120 balls.
But Styris suddenly changed the script in his second over, getting the ball through Dravid's defences. The Indian vice-captain, on 39, tried to play across the line, but the ball sneaked through to hit the leg stump. (176-3, 30.4)
Dravid added 101 runs in 128 balls for the third wicket with Kaif as they took control in the middle overs, before the former was dismissed.
A close finish was on the cards as India reached 189 for 3 after 35 overs, needing another 90 runs in as many balls.
Off-spinner Patel suffered a lot today at the hands of the Indian batsmen, but he got his revenge when he trapped Yuvraj leg before for 22. The left-hander was caught in front of the wicket, attempting the sweep shot, giving Jeetan his first wicket of the match. (223-4, 39.5)
Kaif held steady at one end, unbeaten on 84, with India on 223 for 4 after 40 overs. With Dhoni at the crease, and the all-rounders and tail to follow, it was left to Kaif to anchor the innings and take the team to victory. With 56 runs needed from 60 balls, nothing special was required, only common sense was the need of the hour.
With 48 runs needed from 42 balls, Dhoni came down the wicket and hit Patel for a straight boundary, as India got eight from the over to reach 239 for 4 after 44 overs.
Kaif brought up his second one-day international century with a neat flick to the mid-wicket region. Playing in his 95th match, he took 118 balls to reach the landmark and hit 11 boundaries, with 43 singles, to keep the scoreboard ticking. His first century had come against Zimbabwe in the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in September 2002.
After 45 overs, India were 249 for 4, needing another 30 runs to win.
Nine runs came off the 46th over, bowled by an out-of-sorts Adams, making India's task a bit easier. Dhoni then showed Patel his power, hitting him for a huge six that sailed away into the stands and then, the next ball, repeated the dose. However this time the ball hit the sight screen. The two sixes meant that New Zealand's resistance was nearly over as India had the easy task of scoring just six in the last three overs.
Dhoni's blazing innings of 37 from 27 balls had ensured that there was no drama in the end as India coasted to victory.
Kaif, not out on 102, played one of his best innings in one-day internationals to help India chase down a huge target.
The two batsmen shared an unbeaten partnership of 56 from 46 deliveries as India registered a comprehensive six-wicket victory.
It showed how much Bond and Vettori were missed as India never faced any real problems in their run chase after the blazing start provided by Sehwag.
It remains to be seen whether India can carry this form in the last group match and then against New Zealand in the final. India next play Zimbabwe on Sunday, September 4, which will present them the opportunity to test a few young players.
India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, M S Dhoni, J P Yadav, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik (supersub)
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Nathan Astle, Lou Vincent, Hamish Marshall, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Chris Cairns, Kyle Mills, Andre Adams, Jeetan Patel (supersub)