It is never easy when you are playing in a major game with emotions right at the forefront. It would have been quite understandable for Brendan Taylor to let his emotions get the better of him on possibly his final ever game for Zimbabwe, but instead, he turned that emotion to sheer ODI batting delight, smashing the India bowlers, one of the best lineups in this ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, to bits.
India's reply to Taylor's masterclass? A typically belligerent Suresh Raina hundred and a ridiculously calm half-century from MS Dhoni and a partnership of 196 runs (164b) for the fifth wicket which saw India home.
Taylor, who signed a three-year Kolpak deal with Nottinghamshire, which essentially means he cannot play for Zimbabwe during that tenure, at least, came in with Zimbabwe in a bit of trouble at 13/2, and showed tremendous composure to take his time, get settled and go slam-bang thank-you-ma'am in stunning style.
The key to Zimbabwe's big total of 287 all out in 48.5 overs was the partnership between Taylor (138, 110b, 15x4, 5x6) and Sean Williams (50, 57b, 3x3, 3x6), worth 93, as it gave their team that impetus to go gung-ho in the final 15 overs, after three early wickets had put them in a spot of bother.
India were in big, big trouble in their chase, losing their top four batsmen with under 100 runs on the board, but then came that outstanding partnership from Raina (110 n.o., 104b, 9x4, 4x6) and Dhoni (85 n.o., 76b, 8x4, 2x6) to turn the match on its head and give the champions their sixth win in a row in this World Cup and tenth overall.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma would have walked into the middle in confident mood, knowing the 288-run target was very much chaseable on this small ground in Auckland. However, Zimbabwe showed their ability to pick up wickets and keep things tight with the new ball yet again, with Rohit and Dhawan unable to break free, and eventually caving in to the frustration.
Both wickets were taken by Tinashe Panyangara, in the same over, with Rohit getting a leading edge while trying to plant one to the onside, while Dhawan played-on while going for a cut that was never there.
The Dhawan wicket, in particular, was a result of tight bowling from Zimbabwe, and they then showed their prowess in the field as well, with Ajinkya Rahane falling prey to a run out after a 50-run partnership with Virat Kohli.
There was not much need for worry as long as Kohli was at the crease, but the main man fell rather unluckily to Sikandar Raza in the 23rd over. It was an innocuous delivery from the part-time off-spinner, down the legside and Kohli, looking to just help it down short fine-leg, played it a tad early, with the ball hitting the glove and then cannoning onto the stumps.
At 92/4, India were in big trouble, with the required run rate well above 7, but when you have a player like Dhoni, even the most difficult of situations look easy. Dhoni and Raina went about building a partnership, with the left-hander actually struggling a bit for rhythm in his first 30-40 deliveries. However, once Raina latched onto Sean Williams for a couple of consecutive sixes, that rhythm returned and with Dhoni doing what he does best at the other end, India went about systematically chasing down the target.
It might have been completely different, of course, had Hamilton Masakadza taken a simple catch at short fine-leg to send Raina packing in the final ball before the Batting Powerplay, but that catch was grassed and Raina made Zimbabwe pay.
India only scored 39 runs in the Batting Powerplay, with Dhoni keen on not losing wickets, knowing fully well that nine runs an over in the final 10 is quite makeable. The final 10 overs was brilliant from India, especially Raina, who used touch more than brute force to get those boundaries going, and just like that the target was cut down to "now that is simple enough".
Raina got to his first World Cup hundred in just 94 balls – not bad considering he was just 24 from 46 balls at one point – with the match as good as won by then, as Dhoni, as his is wont, added the finishing touches.
Earlier, while it was India's spinners who brought them back into the game after the faster bowlers had been tonked for a few by the Ireland openers, it was the other way around this time, with Taylor and Williams taking a liking to R Ashwin (10-0-75-1) and Ravindra Jadeja (10-0-71-0).
The moment the spinners came on, Taylor and Williams – the right and left-hand combination also working to a T – kicked up a gear and with the small dimensions at Eden Park, sixes and plenty of fours were well in order.
Williams was caught and bowled by Ashwin right after his half-century, but that only proved to be the cue for Taylor to crank it up, with the right-hander, patiently waiting for the Batting Powerplay to come on before going to tonk-town.
Zimbabwe punished the India bowlers, spinners as well as pacers, severely in the Batting Powerplay, scoring 49 runs in those 30 balls, with Taylor, very much the aggressor during that phase, getting to his century with a delightful ramp shot over MS Dhoni for six. The century, his eighth in ODIs, meant he went past Alastair Campbell to stand alone on the top of the list for Zimbabwe, and there was plenty more to come after that as well.
Jadeja would have hoped the run flow will quell a bit following the end of the Batting Powerplay, but the very next over – the 41st – Taylor latched onto the left-armer, taking all of 25 runs in the six balls, courtesy three fours and two sixes.
Taylor fell in the next over, dismissed by Mohit Sharma, who looks a class apart in the death overs, with Craig Ervine, a mere spectator for much of the partnership at the other end, falling soon after as well, also to Mohit (10-1-48-3). Such was the brilliance of Taylor's innings that quite a few of the Indian players ran up to him to shake his hands, while emotions clearly came tumbling out again as he walked back to the pavilion to a standing ovation.
India were tested for the first time in this World Cup in the death overs, and there were positives along with "plenty of room for improvement" moments in there, with Mohammed Shami, so impeccable up front, frustrating Dhoni and the India fans by insisting on bowling short or length balls.
Having been thumped by Sikandar Raza for a four and two sixes in three balls off length/short deliveries in over number 46, Shami finally realised the importance of the yorker, and delivered it perfectly to knock off the stumps.
That wicket proved to be the end of the Zimbabwe assault, with India pulling things back to knock Zimbabwe over as their run of bowling teams out was extended to six matches.
Dhoni and Raina then ensured Taylor's brilliant innings in his last game would be in vain.
Get the Full Scorecard of the Match HERE