With overs from their frontline bowlers exhausted, New Zealand were forced to turn to Grant Elliott’s gentle seamers to defend 13 runs from the last over in the first T20I against Sri Lanka in Mount Maunganui. Elliott proved himself as nerveless with ball in hand, as he had been with the bat during last year’s World Cup. He took one wicket – which was followed by a run-out – and conceded only nine runs with his mixture of yorkers and slower balls. Chasing New Zealand’s 182 for 4, Sri Lanka fell three short to record their sixth loss in eight matches this tour.
The road to this tight triumph had first been paved by Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson, who struck rapid half-centuries in a 101-run opening stand. Colin Munro, and then Ross Taylor hit brief but explosive innings, before New Zealand’s quicks gave their side an even better start with the ball than the one with the bat. Sri Lanka’s chase seemed to have run aground at 42 for 4 at the end of the fifth over, before Milinda Siriwardana and Danushka Gunathilaka resurrected it. Their 40s were ultimately futile. Matt Henry and Trent Boult took three wickets apiece before Elliott’s over extinguished the resurgence.
Boult was first to strike, finding success with that line outside leg stump that has been strangely productive for New Zealand all through the tour. Tillakaratne Dilshan edged the ball behind his legs to the wicketkeeper first ball, before Shehan Jayasuriya fell in similar fashion in Boult’s next over.
At the other end, Matt Henry had Dinesh Chandimal top-edging a heave across the line, and Angelo Mathews slapping uppishly to cover. Both bowlers would return to strike a further vital blow apiece in the final overs. Boult had Siriwardana caught for a typically shrewd 42 from 31 balls, at fine leg, in the 17th over. Henry had Perera holing out to long on for 28 from 19 balls. Boult’s 3 for 21 earned him the Man-of-the-Match award, with Henry having been more than twice as expensive.
Ish Sodhi also played a role, delivering four overs for 33 and taking the scalp of Gunathilaka, who top-scored with 46 from 29 balls. Many of those runs had come down the ground, including two long sixes – one of which exceeded 100 metres.
Earlier, Guptill set New Zealand’s innings off apace, when he cut the second ball of the day for four, then smoked one through the covers, and thumped another into the bank beyond deep midwicket to reap 14 from the first over. Sri Lanka rifled through their attack at the start, trying four different bowlers in the first four overs, but each failed to remain within the miniscule margin of error for Guptill. At the end of the fourth over New Zealand were 49 for 0. Guptill was 32 off 13.
Sri Lanka scraped through the remainder of the Powerplay by largely keeping Kane Williamson on strike, but they did quiet Guptill when the field relaxed. The leg spin of Jeffrey Vandersay was particularly effective in the middle period – his three-over spell costing only 18.
Despite this relative deceleration, New Zealand had gained enough ground in the Powerplay to cross 100 in the 11th over. Williamson was busy after Guptill had bruised Sri Lanka, slinking about the crease to find smart, square boundaries – though he was also fortunate that the inside edge that grazed his off stump in the eighth over did not dislodge the bails.
Guptill moved to fifty with a high strike over the long-on boundary, but was run out to a direct hit next over, when Williamson called him through for a tight single. Williamson himself departed after a few quieter overs, when he holed out to deep midwicket off Nuwan Kulasekara.
Vandersay removed Corey Anderson in his last over, and should have also had Munro, had the deep point fielder, Jayasuriya, held on to a straightforward catch. He and Kulasekara emerged from the death overs with credit, as Munro and Taylor struck big blows. Kulasekara’s 19th over cost only five runs and he took a wicket. He finished with Sri Lanka’s best figures of 2 for 26, and later threatened to play a winning hand with the bat, but was one of Elliott’s victims in the final over, having hit 14 from 10. (Courtesy Cricinfo)