Jan 03, 2019

Guptill, Neesham put New Zealand 1-0

Martin Guptill smote a 14th career ton, Kane Williamson cruised to 76 off 74, and James Neesham clubbed 47 not out off 13 - hitting five sixes in an over - to launch New Zealand to a monstrous total, which despite a valiant Kusal Perera hundred, Sri Lanka fell short of by 45 runs.

Thanks to the start provided by Niroshan Dickwella, who made 76 off 50, and Danushka Gunathilaka, who joined him in a 119-run opening stand, Sri Lanka had the foundation to pull off an epic chase. Apart from Kusal Perera, however, no other batsmen responded. All four batsmen from Nos. 3-6 fell for less than 20, and struck at less than run-a-ball. In the end, too much was left to Kusal Perera, who despite an incredible hand, was battling an asking rate of over 15 when he got out in the 46th over. With him went all realistic chances of a successful chase, though hopes had been dwindling well before that.

Although Guptill made by far the game's biggest score, hitting 138 off 139 balls, it was Neesham - playing for New Zealand for the first time in over a year - who made the more impactful contributions. Having arrived late in the innings with the bat, he tonked Thisara Perera in the arc between the sightscreen and midwicket five times in one over - the bowler so emphatically rattled by Neesham's hitting that he even bowled a waist-high full-toss halfway through. With 33 runs having been scored off the first five balls of his over, Thisara was at risk of bowling the most expensive ODI over ever. But the last ball, a low full toss, was only struck to long on by Neesham.

He did hit another six to finish the innings though, and then would come back and strike with the ball. He claimed the vital wicket of Dickwella, moving a wide length ball back off the seam slightly to draw an inside edge - the ball then ricocheting back into the stumps. He had earlier had Gunathilaka caught down the legside, and would later bounce Dinesh Chandimal out as well. In a game in which no other frontline bowler went at less than five an over, Neesham took three wickets and maintained an economy rate of 4.75 across his eight overs.

Almost as good was legspinner Ish Sodhi, who took 2 for 53 from his 10 overs, and was instrumental in sucking the momentum out of the Sri Lanka innings, just as they were looking to accelerate into the death overs. This, despite struggling for control of his legbreak in the early overs, and battling a leg injury of some description, for which he spent some time off the field.


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