Sri Lanka sauntered to their first victory of the New Zealand tour, after Tillakaratne Dilshan hit a breezy 116 off 127 balls on a fine batting surface at Seddon Park. The six-wicket win had been forged by the spin bowlers – Dilshan among them – who delivered 37 overs between them, and by New Zealand’s several indiscretions between the wickets. A target of 249 never looked a testing on a pitch that offered little in the way of seam or turn, and thanks to Dilshan, Sri Lanka were in control for the entire duration of their chase.
New Zealand losing four wickets to run outs will be cause for concern, but their batting was also ineffective, except for Brendon McCullum, who struck a supercharged 117 from 99. Of the other top-six batsmen, only Ross Taylor had made more than 10, and his contribution had been a pained 34 from 69 balls. Once Sri Lanka dismissed McCullum, four more wickets fell in eight overs, effectively scuttling the hosts’ chances of posting a competitive score.
Dilshan began the chase by collecting an easy four to fine leg in the third over, but was very nearly out for 6 in the next, when a Matt Henry delivery jagged in sharply off the seam to collect his inside edge. Luke Ronchi couldn’t hold on to a tough chance to his left and Dilshan profited from his luck.
He dismissed Adam Milne down the ground in the fifth over and initiated the theme of his innings: his driving, in the arc between cover and mid-on. Dilshan sent one screaming past the bowler in Milne’s next over as well, and hung back next ball to cut viciously to third man when the change of length came.
Sri Lanka cruised through their batting Powerplay with Dimuth Karunaratne making a good start as well. He was eventually trapped in front by Nathan McCullum for 21, but the chase would stay on track. Kumar Sangakkara launched three hits over the straight fence to kick-start his innings, and was the aggressor in a 52-run second-wicket stand with Dilshan.
Milne returned to test Dilshan with the short ball in the middle overs, and soon found that his pull shot was as punishing as his drives. The batsman slowed after the field had spread, but collected regular singles from the seam bowlers and was untroubled by the spin of McCullum and Daniel Vettori. Meanwhile, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene glittered briefly, then fell to well-set New Zealand traps.
Dilshan’s drives had largely been down the ground in his first fifty runs, but he began to unfurl the manic thrashes through the covers as he approached three-figures. It was that shot, off Milne, that took him to his 19th hundred. By then, Sri Lanka’s victory was almost assured, and Angelo Mathews took his side home with a hooked four off Henry in the 48th over.
Vettori was the first run-out victim in New Zealand’s innings, moments after he had beensaved by his long stride. An lbw referral found the impact to be 300cm in front of the stumps and the umpire’s call of not out was upheld. But he was caught short by after some nifty work by Jeevan Mendis at short midwicket in the 34rd over, and the batting Powerplay brought New Zealand even more woe.
Taylor top-edged a sweep to fine leg. Luke Ronchi was run out before facing a ball as he responded late to the prospect of a quick single. Corey Anderson was run out the next over, driving to mid-on and tore two-thirds of the way down the pitch when he realised Nathan McCullum had not made the slightest response. The next domino in the chain, Nathan McCullum, was caught short of his ground attempting another quick single too. He punched towards mid-off in the 45th over, and was struck down by a Jayawardene direct hit.
At the end of the 30th over, New Zealand had been 158 for 2. At the 45th, they were 208 for 8, and only recovered to 248 thanks to a 26-run last-wicket stand between Henry and Trent Boult.
It was a dismal return for McCullum who had been positive against Sri Lanka’s new-ball pair and use his maturity to sustain the tempo against the spinners as well. He sat back and allowed the bowlers to stray into his enormous strike zone, and twice lifted Mendis’ short balls into the crowd, carved Rangana Herath over cover, and slapped Sachithra Senanayake to deep midwicket as well. A boundary seemed to come every few balls for much of McCullum’s innings. With 12 fours and five sixes, 78 of his runs were composed of them.
That Sri Lanka managed to weather the blitz was due to canny bowling to the men at the other end. Martin Guptill was strangled out and Tom Latham was the victim of a Herath slider that caught the outside edge.
When McCullum was reprieved on 104 in the 28th over, the other batsmen had collectively scored only 35 off 73 balls. His team-mates’ ineptitude would continue even after he was out to a smart catch by Mendis off his own bowling.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent.