Fulton and How demolish Sri Lanka
A year which went so poorly for New Zealand ended on a sparkling note as they notched up only their sixth victory in 19 one-day internationals with a convincing seven-wicket win against Sri Lanka at Queenstown. More than the victory itself, though, it was the manner in which it was achieved that should hearten New Zealand supporters. Jamie How, a 24-year-old opener, made a fluent 58 on debut while Peter Fulton, playing in only his second ODI, remained unbeaten on 70 as New Zealand chased down their target of 165 with 12.4 overs to spare.
The last time Sri Lanka played an ODI in this country - on Boxing Day last year, on a tour cut short by the tsunami - they were thrashed by seven wickets, and the script for this game ran along remarkably similar lines. Dilshan, top-scorer for the Lankans in that match with 48, was the main man here as well with an aggressive 42, but apart from his 64-run stand with Marvan Atapattu (35), Sri Lanka were never in the game.
On the other hand New Zealand, bolstered by the return of Shane Bond, made excellent use of their decision to bowl first after winning the toss, reducing Sri Lanka to 41 for 4. Their strategy was a simple one: on a pitch offering some bounce and seam movement, the fast bowlers peppered the batsmen with short stuff, then pitched it up and invited the drive. With the Sri Lankan batsmen lacking in confidence, wickets began to tumble in a hurry.
Sanath Jayasuriya, back in the team after missing the Tests in India, and Upul Tharanga lasted eight overs, but Jayasuriya's dismissal triggered a collapse as four wickets went down in the next six overs. Kyle Mills, who bowled with impeccable control, triggered the collapse, while Bond's pace and swing was too much for Kumar Sangakkara to handle. When Jacob Oram nailed two wickets in successive overs, Sri Lanka were staring down the barrel, but then came the brightest moments of their innings, as Dilshan decided to respond to the crisis in typically belligerent fashion. He thrashed a square-drive and a straight-drive off successive balls from Oram, and when Chris Cairns drifted onto leg stump, Dilshan responded with a crisp hoick which cleared the square-leg boundary. His first 24 runs came off just 14 balls, and with Atapattu playing steadily at the other end, all wasn't yet lost for Sri Lanka.
New Zealand, though, kept chipping away, with Vettori bowling another excellent spell, replete with superb variations in flight and pace. And when Atapattu flicked a catch to square leg, Sri Lanka's brief fightback was over. Dilshan perished soon after, and New Zealand wasted little time in tightening the noose.
The target wasn't an imposing one, but the task was made even easier by two players who, before this match, had a combined experience of one ODI. Organised in defence with a tight technique, and fluent in strokeplay, How's performance suggested he could be the answer to New Zealand's woes at the top of the order. Despite losing two senior partners fairly early, How remained unruffled. Chaminda Vaas tested him with deliveries that nipped back, but How was balanced enough not to fall over, defending comfortably with a straight bat. After getting a good idea of the pace and bounce in the first five overs, How unfurled three scorching boundaries in the sixth, off Lasith Malinga - two flicks, and a gorgeous straight-drive. When Malinga came back for a second spell, he repeated that stroke, and brought up his fifty with a magnificent pulled six off the same bowler. It was the highest score by a New Zealand opener on debut - beating Jock Edwards's 41 against India in 1975-76.
Fulton was more uncertain against Murali at the start, but gradually grew in confidence and unfurled some meaty blows, many of them down the ground. Atapattu tried all the bowling options available, though Dilhara Fernando's absence - he was subbed out by Farveez Maharoof earlier in the day - left him with one less option. Fulton took his time to settle in, but he soon turned it on, getting to his maiden half-century as authoritatively as How, slog-sweeping Murali for six over square leg. Though How was finally dismissed, he had enough to ensure that the result was never in doubt.
Sanath Jayasuriya c Vincent b Mills 12 (23 for 1)
Slashed a full delivery to cover point
Kumar Sangakkara c Fulton b Bond 0 (25 for 2)
Edged an awayswinger to slip
Mahela Jayawardene c McCullum b Oram 1 (34 for 3)
Nicked one that pitched perfectly in the corridor
Upul Tharanga c McCullum b Oram 17 (41 for 4)
Fended at a rising delivery and got an edge
Marvan Atapattu c How b Mills 35 (105 for 5)
Flicked to square leg, good low catch diving forward
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Vincent b Bond 42 (132 for 6)
Mistimed a drive to cover
Chaminda Vaas c Vettori b Oram 1 (139 for 7)
Top-edged an attempted hoick and holed out to mid-off
Russel Arnold b Mills 25 (150 for 8)
Swung across the line and missed
Farveez Maharoof b Cairns 18 (162 for 9)
Tried to slog a straight one and failed to connect
Muttiah Muralitharan c Vettori b Bond 0 (163 all out)
Chipped a catch to mid-off
Lou Vincent c Sangakkara b Vaas 15 (32 for 1)
Nicked one which pitched on off and seamed away
Nathan Astle lbw b Muralitharan 2 (41 for 2)
Went back to cut but beaten by the turn
Jamie How b Jayasuriya 58 (136 for 3)
Missed a slog-sweep
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.