Tom Latham reiterated on Friday why he's an ever-dependable middle-order batter for New Zealand by striking his seventh ODI hundred to seal a seven-wicket victory over India in the first fixture of three-match series at Eden Park.
After Shreyas Iyer top-scored with 80 off 76 balls while captain Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill struck 72 and 50 respectively in their fourth hundred-plus stand as an opening pair this year to propel India to a challenging 306/7, New Zealand were in trouble at 88/3 in 19.5 overs.
But Latham took the game away from India, hitting an inexperienced bowling attack all over the park to end up unbeaten on a career-best score of 145 off 104 balls, laced with 19 fours and five sixes.
He also stitched an unbeaten 221-run stand off 165 balls with skipper Kane Williamson, who was the perfect ally and was unconquered at 94 not out to chase the total with 17 balls remaining. For India, they lost the plot with the ball when Latham and Williamson were attacking them, especially after the 40th over.
Umran Malik did trouble the Blackcaps with his two wickets on ODI debut while Washington Sundar, after a blazing cameo of 37 not out off 16 balls, was economical in his spell of 0/42. Rest of the bowlers, including debutant left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh, were hammered for runs.
Chasing 307, Finn Allen and Devon Conway hit five boundaries in the first five overs. Allen was dropped by Yuzvendra Chahal at short mid-wicket off Shardul Thakur. But on the third ball of the eighth over, the pacer extracted the outer edge off Allen's bat to have him caught behind.
Post power-play, Conway went for a booming drive, but got a faint edge behind to keeper to become Malik's maiden ODI scalp. Four overs later, Malik had another scalp to his name when Daryl Mitchell miscued a slice to deep point.
From 88/3 in 19.5 overs, Williamson and Latham joined forces to get New Zealand's chase back on track. Latham began by sweeping Yuzvendra Chahal, before cutting Malik twice through the off-side to get three fours in two overs.
Williamson and Latham tore into an economical Sundar - the former launching a six over long-on while the latter got a four by sweeping through backward square leg. After Latham bisected the field with a perfect sweep off Chahal for four, Williamson got his fifty off 54 balls by pulling Thakur through square leg.
The duo shifted their gears by latching onto anything which was short, had some width outside the off-stump or down leg, resulting in Latham raising his fifty. Latham brought out effortless flicks, pick-up shots and pulls apart from trademark sweeps to go past Williamson in scoring while running between the wickets very well.
Latham then tore into Thakur in the 40th over - pulling over deep backward square leg for six, followed by four successive boundaries, three of which were hammered through the leg-side. He would then complete his second ODI century against India with a single to long-on to take 25 runs off the over.
The result was a foregone conclusion from there as Latham and Williamson hit nine boundaries from 42.2 to 47.1 overs, last of which was steered nicely by the New Zealand skipper past third man off Arshdeep to give the hosts' a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Earlier, Dhawan and Gill had a solid opening stand of 124 in 23.1 overs after overcoming a slow start. With the pitch not being an easy one to bat on, New Zealand were able to keep him and Shubman Gill in check in power-play. But Dhawan did hit four boundaries while Gill tonked Matt Henry over long-on for six and used his pace to ramp another maximum over keeper's head.
Gill brought up India's fifty in the 13th over with a delightful cut, but India needed Dhawan to up the ante. It happened when he took back-to-back fours off Ferguson in the 15th over and cut uppishly twice off Milne for a brace of fours.
Dhawan got his fifty when he heaved over long-on for four off Milne in the 21st over and four balls later, brought up the century of the opening partnership by ramping over keeper's head for four. Three overs later, Gill would reach his half-century. But New Zealand made a comeback as they picked four wickets in 36 runs.
Ferguson broke the opening partnership by having Gil flick straight to deep square leg. In the next over, Dhawan sliced straight to backward point and became the 200th ODI wicket of Tim Southee. Ferguson then had Rishabh Pant and in-form Suryakumar Yadav falling in quick succession.
Iyer stepped up to steer India towards a huge total by stitching a 94-run stand with Sanju Samson (36). After surviving an lbw appeal and dropped catch by Latham, Iyer pressed the accelerator with his trademark slash, loft and pull off the front foot, to get his fifty. Samson found most of his boundaries by using pace from the bowlers to dab or flick and find the gaps with ease.
Though Samson holed out to fielder in the deep off Milne, Washington stepped up by smacking Southee over wide long-on for six and then ramped Milne for another maximum over third man. He then hit Henry for two fours and a six in the 49th over, before hitting another boundary in the final over to take India past 300.