WELLINGTON, April 7 – India secured their first series win in New Zealand since 1968 on Tuesday despite rain cheating them of a huge victory in the third Test here Tuesday.
The draw at the Basin Reserve was all the tourists needed for a 1-0 series win, breaking the 41-year gap since their last series victory in New Zealand.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said the mood in the dressing room after the long awaited win was "fantastic".
"We have achieved something that is big, but the tough part is to maintain it," he said afterwards.
"I think it will be tougher for the next guys who come here."
As number three ranked team in the world, the ever-improving India were always expected to overcome an inconsistent New Zealand, ranked eighth.
India’s star-laden batting lineup and more than competent bowling attack proved too much for New Zealand, with a modest bowling attack and brittle and inexperienced batting line up.
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said India deserved to be bracketed with Australia and South Africa at the peak of world cricket.
"They’re obviously starting to prove themselves away from home," he said.
"I think you can throw Australia, South Africa and India in there as the three best teams in the world, it’s hard to distinguish between the three at the moment."
The skipper said his side’s patchy performances continued to frustrate their attempts to rise higher up the world Test rankings.
"We’ve been inconsistent but we’ve only lost one Test match. I think people have to remember that," he said.
But New Zealand had the weather to thank for not losing a second Test in the series on Tuesday, with the home side poised on the brink of a humbling defeat at 281 for eight when rain led to the game being washed out early in the afternoon.
With only two second innings wickets remaining, New Zealand remained 336 runs adrift of the massive target of 617 set by India when they declared at 434 for seven early on Monday.
By then the series win was a formality, with India needing only a draw after coming to Wellington with a 1-0 lead after thrashing the hosts by 10 wickets in the first Test in Hamilton.
The third Test draw calls into question Dhoni’s caution in deciding to bat on during the early part of the fourth day to extend India’s lead to 616, although rain on Tuesday had been forecast for several days.
The highest successful Test fourth innings run chase was 418 scored by the West Indies against Australia in 2003.
But Dhoni defended his decision, saying the extra buffer of runs allowed his team to maintain an aggressive field through New Zealand’s second innings.
"When you have that extra 80 runs on the board you can have those extra catching fielders hanging around for a lot longer," he said.
"I did not think that 450 to 500 would have been an ideal score to declare."
India’s charge towards victory on Tuesday was led by offspinning star Harbhajan Singh, who took the prize wicket of New Zealand century maker Ross Taylor on his way to a haul of four for 59.
Sachin Tendulkar is known as the "Little Master" for his batting, but he showed he also knows a few things about bowling by taking two for 45 with his tricky leg spinners.
Taylor’s dismissal for 107 signalled a mini-collapse that saw New Zealand slump from 226 for four to 253 for seven in the space of eight overs before lunch.
With allrounder James Franklin, Taylor had provided a ray of hope for the scattering of New Zealand fans who braved gale force winds at the Basin Reserve during the morning.
The pair had put on 142 runs for the fifth wicket after coming together on Monday afternoon, when New Zealand were at risk of collapse at 84 for four.
Taylor’s defiant fourth Test century was brought to an end when he was bowled by a beautifully flighted straight ball from Harbhajan.
His 165 ball innings lasting 261 minutes included 16 boundaries, as he mixed watchfulness with a willingness to attack the loose ball.