Martin Guptill’s fourth ODI ton helped New Zealand post 371 for 7 after opting to bat in the first game of the three-match series at the Bay Oval against Sri Lanka on Thursday (January 3).
Kane Williamson (76) and Ross Taylor (54) too made bulky contributions to thrust up the total as the visiting team’s bowlers struggled in good batting conditions. James Neesham providing a blitzy finish with his unbeaten 47 off 13, which included fives sixes in an over off Thisara Perera.
Guptill had last played an ODI in March last year against England at home before New Zealand cricket went into hibernation. When it was time to hit the park again, in the tour to UAE against Pakistan, he was sidelined due to a calf injury. Returning to the side after a long lay-off, the opener had acknowledged he felt rusty entering the series but was quick to point out that he was prepared. Given the opportunity to make first use of good batting conditions, he walked out and slammed 138 off 139 to re-establish his credentials as the first-choice opener in the 2019 World Cup for New Zealand.
The ominous signs were there from very early on in the innings. In the sixth over of the innings, he whipped a Thisara Perera delivery on the off-stump to midwicket. The timing was such that it flew off the bat and just short of the boundary. Colin Munro looked promising during his stay and gave Guptill the cushion to ease into his innings. Even before the New Zealand total had touched 20, Munro had smashed a boundary and a six to put the pressure on Sri Lanka.
However, Munro was undone by a Malinga slower ball in the fifth over. The Sri Lanka captain had been firing deliveries into the left-hander, and swung it back in, to keep things tight. Munro was expecting another one on the stumps but ended up playing way too early to the off-cutter floated just outside off. The ball landed with the point fielder to give the visitors the much-needed early break. The Guptill-Kane Williamson stand from there on turned out to be the catalyst for the massive total. They scored 163 for the second wicket to lay a perfect launchpad for a late assault.
Williamson was a bit edgy to begin with but it wasn’t long before he was set. There were a few outside edges but the ball soon started finding the middle of the bat. Guptill by then was set and such was the fluency of his innings that he raced to his half-century without the belligerence that’s usually associated with him. Williamson too got to his half-century - 34th in the format - before he was bowled by Nuwan Pradeep. Trying to guide the ball fine, the New Zealand captain ended up playing it on to fall after a 74-ball knock.
Guptill got to his ton in the 34th over when he smashed a Seekuge Prasanna delivery to deep point and then saw Taylor smash a half-century off just 35 balls. The former fell first as Sri Lanka pulled this back just a touch with quick wickets. Trying to tuck a back of length delivery to the on side, Guptill ended with the leading edge being caught at point. Taylor smoked one to long-off while Henry Nicholls was run out.
The respite, though, was short-lived for Sri Lanka as Neesham, also returning to the side, had his fair share of fun - especially in the 49th over. Perera was at the receiving end as he saw the all-rounder smash five sixes in the penultimate over which yielded 34 - the joint third-most expensive over in ODIs. Neesham also struck a six off Pradeep off the final ball of the innings as New Zealand finished with an mammoth total.