Black Caps grab series win despite Thisara Perera’s heroics

New Zealand sealed an ODI series win over Sri Lanka in Mount Maunganui on Saturday night but a blockbusting knock from Thisara Perera, coupled with some woeful catching, took the gloss of what had previously been an impressive effort.

Perera slammed an incredible 140 from 74 balls to get the tourists within 21 runs of New Zealand’s 319-7.

He turned what was going to be a Black Caps romp into a nailbiting finale until falling to a desperate diving catch by Trent Boult in the 47th over.

“Any innings like that is obviously very special – I’d say nine times out of 10 they’d come up on the winning side but it was thanks to some early wickets that they didn’t have enough wickets in the tank to keep it going the entire 50 overs.

“We’re happy to get away with the win and the series.”

Earlier, Colin Munro’s 87 equalled the left-hander’s best ODI score and could have been much more, if not for a run-out mix-up with Ross Taylor in the 26th over.

New Zealand also got strong contributions with the bat from Taylor (90) and Jimmy Neesham (64 from 37 balls).

Chasing another stiff target, Sri Lanka faltered as legspinner Sodhi snared 3-55 off his full complement of 10 overs.

Sodhi found a marvellous rhythm, hitting a sweet length and line and his figures were only spoiled by some late hitting from all-rounder Perera when all seemed lost for Sri Lanka.

He reached his maiden ODI ton off only 57 balls and wasn’t finished by any means. He struck 13 sixes and eight fours in a magnificent display of clean hitting.

“The game of cricket’s not an easy one, especially in this day and age,” Sodhi said.

“The batsmen are a lot more confident, they can take it a lot deeper and play all around the ground.

“You can never really rest on your laurels.”

There was an early bounce about New Zealand’s display with the ball and in the field. We witnessed a plethora of low-fives and bum slaps whenever an excellent diving stop or a string of dot balls was produced as they looked a happy camp, but they blotted their copybook awfully with some glaring late dropsies.

“That’s the second time we’ve scored well over 300,” Sodhi said.

“The batting unit’s been doing a fantastic job. I think the bowling unit did a pretty good job – the guy had his day today and we can be thankfull we walked away with the win.

“A couple of catching errors – that can happen under lights. We haven’t played a hell of a lot of cricket here under lights, it’s quite new for us.”

Skipper Kane Williamson surprised all by introducing himself to the bowling crease in the 11th over of Sri Lanka’s reply and it should have proved a masterstroke.

However, a short wide one first up that was cut aerially by Danushka Gunathilaka was dropped at backward point by Henry Nicholls.

Kusal Perera, who looked a million dollars on Thursday night, resembled a long-gone two cent piece on Saturday before departing to Matt Henry for four off 23 balls.

Sodhi pegged back the Sri Lankan scoring rate initially and then further hindered the chance of a visiting victory when he and wicketkeeper Tim Seifert combined to remove the dangerous Kusal Mendis and when opener Gunathilaka (71 off 73 balls) departed in the following over to Neesham, the fans could have been excused for trying to beat the traffic.

When Chandimal failed to pick Sodhi’s wrong ‘un, the game seemed over as a contest after 25 overs of Sri Lanka’s pursuit.

Despite Williamson’s protestations, most fans – and likely the players – see the three-game series against Sri Lanka, and the ODI matches to come against India and Bangladesh, as trials for the Black Caps squad selection for the World Cup starting in England at the end of May.

Munro, among the batsmen, needed a score most. When he reached his half-century, it was the first time he’d achieved that mark in 11 ODI innings. When he went past 59, it was his highest score in 17 ODI innings, going back to India in October 2017.

It wasn’t a chanceless knock – he should have perished on 60 when he mistimed a lofted on-drive but Chandimal made a horror show of what should have been a simple catch.

Not that Munro was at all perturbed – he slammed the next ball over the long-off boundary for six and ended the over by top-edging a sweep in between fielders.

That replicated Munro’s early approach – despite losing two wickets before the end of the eighth over, Munro wasn’t greatly swayed from his trademark attacking game, striking two fours and 12 sixes while always willing to take on the fieldsmen.

There was never going to be any doubt over Taylor’s inclusion, but the veteran sent another reminder that elite ODI form in 2018 may not be an outlier.

He made 90 from 105 balls after a rapid 54 on Thursday while Neesham – fresh off his 13-ball 47 not out – raced to 64 off 37 balls before becoming the innings’ third of four run-outs.

It was Taylor’s fifth consecutive score of 50 or more in ODIs – one short of the national record shared by Williamson and Andrew Jones.

Sri Lanka had used seven bowlers by the 23rd over to try and restrict a New Zealand side which made 371-7 batting first on Thursday. A bikini-waxed outfield – appropriate for a holiday beach resort – virtually guaranteed that any shot that beat the inner circle fielder raced away for a boundary.

Thursday’s century-maker Guptill found 13 unlucky on Saturday when he nicked a sharp-bouncing outswinger from Sri Lankan skipper Lasith Malinga in the fifth over – just when the visitors’ attack was again looking toothless with a lack of movement and pace.

Sixteen balls later, the hosts were rocked when Williamson top-edged a hook off Nuwan Pradeep and Lakshan Sandakan took the catch at long leg, tossing it up to himself as he stepped back over the boundary.

But Munro and Taylor added 112 for the third wicket in 18 overs to again register a total that again proved beyond Sri Lanka under lights.

The third and final ODI is in Nelson on Tuesday, with Sri Lanka’s tour ending with a Twenty20 match at Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday. (Courtesy stuff.co.nz)

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