After seeing Indian bowlers getting hammered while defending a challenging total in Hamilton on Tuesday, one could understand why MS Dhoni had opted to field first after winning the toss on 20 previous occasions abroad.
Indian bowlers conceded totals of 292, 271 and 314 in the first three matches in New Zealand and Dhoni might have thought his change of plan to bat first might also bring India luck and put an end to their losing streak on foreign soil. But it didn't happen. The inexperienced bowlers were taken to task by the New Zealand batsmen, once again.
So no wonder why Dhoni was dejected after the poor performance of his pacers. "Frankly, our bowling was quite disappointing. This was a kind of wicket where one thing you don't want to do is to bowl short and wide. I think we consistently did that with the new ball and the older ball," Dhoni said after India's another humiliating seven-wicket loss on Tuesday.
But beside discussing bowlers' frailties, one should also look at the changes India made to their playing eleven in the must-win game. Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina were dropped on form, while Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny got opportunities to impress. But having remained stubborn about not making too many changes to the eleven, the Indian team management did the other extreme by making one change too many and also turning the batting order upside down.
With no specialist opener to partner Rohit Sharma, what they did was ask every player to bat a place higher than his usual spot, which meant Virat Kohli opened instead of batting at his customary No. 3. Instead, either Dhawan should have been retained or Rahane should have been asked to open.
Kohli has shown in the past that he could adapt to different situations effectively, but against the accurate Kyle Mills and Tim Southee, even the in-form Kohli found it tough to get going and fell cheaply. So did Rahane, who too found batting at No. 3 a difficult proposition.
India kept losing wickets whenever they thought of landing a counter punch. A match-saving fifty in the previous game got Ashwin a promotion ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and debutant Stuart Binny. But the offspinner, who is also the No. 1 Test allrounder, could not repeat his heroics with the bat. And Jadeja's knock explained that it was a mistake to send Ashwin ahead of him. Thanks to the counter-attack by Dhoni and Jadeja, India managed to cross 275 to give themselves a good chance.
But unlike New Zealand new-ball bowlers, Indian pacers bowled short and gave Kiwi batsmen width from the beginning. The first 24 runs of the New Zealand innings came via boundaries, with Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill smashing one four after another.
But with both Ryder and Guptill falling in quick succession and Jadeja and Ashwin getting plenty of help from the wicket, it was expected that India would squeeze the New Zealand middle order. But that was not the case. Instead of continuing with one of his specialist spinner from one end and a seamer from the other, Dhoni decided to replace both Jadeja and Ashwin, giving Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor time to settle and put NZ on course.
It was also beyond comprehension why Dhoni used Rayudu as a part-time bowler when he had Kohli and Rohit as options. Rayudu's three overs went for 23 runs and Binny was bowled for just one. And whenever Dhoni tried to bring his specialist pacers back, they went for plenty.
By the time he pressed Jadeja and Ashwin back into service, Williamson and Taylor were well set and New Zealand were cruising towards the Indian total. From there on, the hosts held their nerve, keeping the visitors under the pump to win the match and series convincingly.
The final ODI may be inconsequential in terms of the series winner, but it provides India another opportunity to fine-tune their combination keeping the World Cup in mind - for the defending champions look far from settled on foreign soil.