A spectacular Showara showcase by Thisara Perera was not enough to liberate Sri Lanka from a middle-class box, though it was a much more explosive fun hunt for 320 than it had promised when Sri Lanka was 7. Thisara hit 13 six and eight-quarters on the way to 140 of 74 balls – each of the New Zealand Death Cutters got a painful raid.
But with 22 still needed for the win and Nuuan Pradeep was only No. 11 for the company, Thisara struck a long ball from Matt Henry in the direction where Trent Boult sprinted forward and completed an excellent dive.
The fact that New Zealand was even in this situation after the opposition was practically overthrown in the medium surges was unusually bad earlier in the night. No less than five clear chances went back under, including Thisara, when he was 79 – Kane Williamson was the culprit and let the ball slip through his fingers in the long shoot.
In the end, their dramatic midfield collapse, in which Sri Lanka lost five goals for 16 runs, proved to be the final phase of the game. At least the heroic deeds of Thisara were further evidence that he has been a much improved batsman in the last 12 months. His century against 57 balls was the fastest against New Zealand. Only five batsmen have hit another six in an innings – his 13 defeated Sri Lanka’s record of eleven, held by Sanath Jayasuriya since 1996.
The last 40 minutes of the game were so breathless – Thisara’s blows, which rain down on Bay Oval like a meteor shower – made the New Zealand performances, which established the series’ victory, a distant memory in the end. However, these efforts were outstanding. Colin Munro hit a 77-ball-87 when he set up a 112-run stand for the third wicket with Ross Taylor, who formed the basis for New Zealand’s dominating grand total. Taylor himself continued his sublime ODI form and hit 90 to score five consecutive fifty and more than fifty in the last ten innings.
James Neesham caused another fireworks of casualties, which deflated 64 of 37, before he again proved to be a midwifery. And leg spinner Ish Sodhi was great on the surface, which now offered a moderate twist. He took 3 out of 55 from his 10 overs and triggered the collapse of the middle order in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan dive was fast and predictable in many ways. If the top-level order has established a reasonably solid foundation in recent months, the middle order tends to be almost even under pressure to maintain momentum. This time, Sri Lanka was 2-1 up after 22 overs, mostly due to half a century of opener Danushka Gunathilaka before practically abandoning the match.
Kusal Mendis was the first to drop 20 of 30 and squeezed the ball as he tried to sweep Sodhi – wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, who deftly moved down the side of the leg to make a hard catch. Gunathilaka was the next to pass, trying to pull James Neesham in the middle and only managed to send a high catch from the top, also seized by Seifert.
Dinesh Chandimal had come out next and had failed to read a Sodhi googly who plunged back into his stumps during his cut before Asela Gunaratne demanded Thisara for a suicide single. The last wicket at this time was the result of another Sodhi Googly – Seekkuge Prasanna playing around him as he tried to knock the bowler into the stratosphere.
Sri Lanka’s distress seemed desperate, but Thisara warmed his work with a flood of fours before the first six arrived in front of Tim Southee, who hit a waist-high, short ball thrust across his square leg. Soon the big blows came like an avalanche. There were two Thisara sixes and a four of Sodhi’s final – the 33rd of the innings – and another four by Matt Henry, before his partner Lasith Malinga – who had twice been dropped – was finally eliminated and his drums by Trent Boult was demolished. for 17. This partnership was worth 75 out of 50 balls.
The next level brought another 51, to which Lakshan Sandakan contributed only six runs. The rest consisted of thisara punches. Although Thisara played offside regularly at the beginning of his innings, he hit balls through his main strike zone – the arc between wide Long Off and Midwicket – at the end. He ran past his best result of 80, scoring a single in Sandakan’s company, and after the ninth wicket slipped, he brought his most brutal punch to the final break for victory.
After being surrounded for the second time in as many games by Neesham, Thisara dropped him in the 45th round for two sixes. Then, with 50 required of 30 balls, he knocked four sixs off Tim Southee to bring the equation to almost a run-a-ball. Although the Henry Ball that dislodged it was in the slot, Perera could not bully him over the rope as before – maybe he had some tiredness that had weakened his muscles.
At the start of the day, Taylor had played New Zealand’s best innings, though Munro had provided the early fireworks. Taylor’s was a clever blow to a batsman at the top of his game. He was measured by most innings, ventured only occasionally a big shot and manipulated instead the ball efficiently in gaps.
Only 22 of his runs were out of bounds, with singles and twos on the leg side most populating his innings. He might have had to pay three times if he had not selflessly searched for two legs after twisting a ball into a right-angled leg – the throwback of Kusal Perera, who caught Taylor just off his bottom.