Trent Boult’s rediscovery of his magic with new ball fuelled New Zealand’s frantic five-wicket victory over a wretched Sri Lanka and kept their World Cup semifinals dreams intact in Bengaluru on Thursday. Daryl Mitchell (43 off 31 balls) milked the sound platform given by openers Devon Conway (45 off 42 balls) and Rachin Ravindra (42 off 34 balls) with their 86-run stand as the Kiwis hunted down the target of 172 in 23.2 overs. The result helped them to snap a four-match losing streak in the event, and it was also the perfect culmination of the demolition job started by Boult with his outstanding three-wicket burst (3/37).
New Zealand (NRR: +0.743) have 10 points after their league engagements and they will in all likelihood join India, Australia and South Africa in the last four stage, unless Pakistan or Afghanistan, who are on eight points apiece, create some miracle.
In their final league match, Pakistan (NRR: +0.036) will face England on Saturday while Afghanistan (NRR: -0.338) will lock horns with South Africa tomorrow.
In the backdrop of all those calculations, it was important for the Kiwis to win handsomely to stay ahead of the other contenders, and both Conway and Ravindra were aware of it.
They exploited the struggles of Lankan bowlers to find the right line quite mercilessly.
Pacer Dushmantha Chameera occasionally managed to purchase some lift off the pitch but there was nothing really unnegotiable. Ravindra proved that with a six off Chameera himself and a couple of other maximums of spinner De Silva.
However, Conway would repent missing a fifty that was there for the taking after a little shimmy and whack off Chameera ended in the hands of De Silva inside the circle.
Conway has not managed a fifty in eight innings in this tournament after starting off the block with a big hundred against England at Ahmedabad.
Ravindra too could have added another fifty-plus score to his swelling kitty of runs but his almighty cross-batted heave off Maheesh Theekshana could not clear De Silva at mid-on.
At 88 for 2 in the 14th over, New Zealand were not in any trouble but they needed some quick runs to stay ahead in run rate mathematics.
Mitchell did precisely that. The right-hander has been a silent success story for the Black Caps in this showpiece, having amassed over 400 runs averaging 67.33 at a strike-rate of 109.78.
Coming in at No. 4, the 32-year-old often worked as the link between top and down the order batters, gluing the innings together.
He performed that task once again with carefully planned stroke-play and Mitchell picking the gaps with precision was a treat to watch.
The Hamilton man also used his feet well against Theekshana never allowing him to settle down, evidenced by that massive six he pummelled over long-off.
But the needless run out of Mark Chapman while the Kiwis were cruising stood as a sore point as he had to sacrifice his wicket for Mitchell, and the former was not entirely chuffed about it either.
New Zealand, though, managed to move past the tape from that point without too many hiccups.
But for that smooth win, the Black Caps should thank Boult’s riveting show in the noon, who was ably assisted by the skilful left-arm spin of Mitchell Santner (2/22).
Their effort reduced a belligerent 51 off 28 balls by Lankan opener Kusal Perera, who was dropped on 1 by stumper Tom Latham off Tim Southee, to a mere footnote in an otherwise shambolic batting effort.
Boult was struggling for his rhythm in the last couple of matches, but the 35-year-old revealed his true colours with a bit of nip in the air, jagging the ball around.
After Southee jettisoned Pathum Nissanka, the left-arm pacer dismissed Lankan captain Kusal Mendis, whose mistimed pull ended with Ravindra near square leg, in the first ball of the fifth over.
Three balls later, Boult angled one across in-form Sadeera Samarawickrama, and the indecisive right-hander nibbled it to Latham.
A couple of overs later, Boult trapped Charith Asalanka in front of the wicket with one that came wee bit in to reduce Lanka to 70 for four well inside the first 10 overs.
Angelo Matthews and Dhananjaya de Silva could not negate Santner’s accuracy and the deliveries that spun away from them, perishing cheaply, which effectively ended the Lankan fight.
However, while the Lankan castle was crumbling around him Perera played a gem of an innings.
Perera had not made the kind of impact expected of him while making just one fifty against Australia in the tournament and failing to reach double digits in five other innings.
However, the left-hander was in his elements here and creamed the Kiwi bowlers around the park.
Perera made Southee suffer the most. He extracted 18 runs off the pacer’s third over, innings’ sixth, through a sequence of 6, 4, 4, 4.
The pick-up six off his legs over long-on and the drive past the point fielder were the standout shots in that series.
Perera soon reached his 17th ODI fifty with another cracking cover drive off returning pacer Lockie Ferguson.
But the fun ended soon as Ferguson had the last laugh – an attempted loft over the covers ended in the hands of Santner.
Ferguon, who pinged Theekshana on his arm, returned to rattle the late-order batsmen with his high pace, ensuring no letting off of pressure.
Theekshana and Dilshan Madhushanke added 43 runs for the final wicket, the highest in the Lankan essay, but they could not find a total that can even stretch New Zealand.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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