Guptill, Neesham put New Zealand 1-0 up after 45-run win

Jimmy Neesham launches one over cow corner
New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Mount Maunganui January 03, 2019

New Zealand 371/7 (Guptill 138, Williamson 76, Taylor 54, Neesham 47*) beat Sri Lanka 326 (Dickwella 76, Kusal Perera 102, Neesham 3-38) by 45 runs

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. 4-6 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.

Earlier, both Guptill and Williamson's innings had been smooth from the outset, and it was their 163-run second-wicket stand that formed the spine of New Zealand's innings. The boundaries came rapidly for Guptill through the Powerplay, and he was particularly severe when the Sri Lanka bowlers pitched wide, which they did too often.

He practically skated through the middle overs, happily working Sri Lanka's spinners into the outfield on a surface that was offering little turn. Whenever they offered him the chance to free his arms, he did so gleefully. There was an especially memorable six over extra cover off the legspin of Seekkuge Prasanna to bring up his fifty, then a swept six off Lakshan Sandakan a few overs later. As Guptill and Williamson's scores swelled, the Sri Lanka spinners appeared more and more toothless. Neither created any clear-cut wicket chances.

Williamson played another one of his effortless innings, scoring heavily behind square on the offside to begin with, before runs began to come for him right around the ground. He used his feet to the spinners, and had even less trouble turning the strike over than his partner. He had looked good for a century until Pradeep bowled an off-cutter that Williamson was slightly late on - the ball bouncing back on to the stumps. He made 76 off 74 balls.

After Sri Lanka had been set their mammoth target, Dickwellla began to attack it in characteristic fashion, getting down on one knee to scoop the quicks over his head; slinking around the crease to make room to hit through the offside. He led the charge in the Powerplay, at the end of which Sri Lanka were 70 for no loss.

For Kusal Perera, there were early signs he was in excellent touch. He crashed his sixth ball - a short one from Neesham - to the deep square leg boundary, and clubbed four more fours from his next 15 balls. On errors of length, he was brutal, flicking overpitched deliveries over midwicket, and slamming the short, misdirected ones past square leg.

New Zealand were careful not to feed his punishing cut, though, which meant that he only occasionally scored through the offside. He raised his fourth - and perhaps best - ODI hundred by drilling Matt Henry through the covers, but by the end of his innings had scored over 75% of his runs to leg.

In fact, it was a ball way outside off stump - one that he perhaps should have cracked past cover point - that was his undoing. Batting on 102 off 85 balls, he reached out to hit an angled delivery from Boult, and wound up only sending a top edge high into the gloves of debutant Tim Seifert, who had run towards point to complete the catch.

Sri Lanka may be content with the fight they showed with the bat, but familiar woes have led to another ODI loss. Perhaps chief among those is lack of penetration through the middle overs. Neither Sandakan nor Prasanna could claim a wicket, allowing that giant Guptill-Williamson stand to flourish. New Zealand meanwhile, kept finding wickets through the middle overs, and ultimately claimed a comfortable victory.

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