He constructed a remarkable hundred, which was so far above the rest of the batting seen in the game that it has to go down as one of the finest innings in the format. As a comparison, using ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats tool, Virat Kohli's 82 not out against Pakistan was given a Total Impact* score of 116.09; Rilee Rossouw's hundred against Bangladesh 134.40 and this innings from Phillips 182.61.
How is Total Impact calculated?
Total Impact for a player in a match is a numerical value that is the sum of his Batting and Bowling Impacts. These Impacts are calculated based on the context of a batting/bowling performance.
The context is based on an algorithm that quantifies the pressure on the batter/bowler at every ball of an innings. The factors that go into calculating the pressure index include runs required, overs left, quality of batters at the crease and those to follow, quality of bowlers and number of overs left for each bowler, and pitch/conditions and how easy/tough it is for batters/bowlers.
"I think it's probably going to be at the top," Phillips said when asked where the performance sat for him. "I do have one other hundred, and that was pretty special as well, but to be able to do it on a World Cup stage just adds a little bit more juice to it, which is kind of cool. To be able to have a World Cup win in front of a sticky situation is actually the most satisfying part."
He came in at 7 for 2 in the third over and at the end of the powerplay, New Zealand were 25 for 3. There could hardly have been more of a contrast to their game against Australia where Finn Allen and Devon Conway had added 56 in 4.1 overs.
This time the openers had been flummoxed by Sri Lanka's spinners: Allen beaten by a delivery from Maheesh Theekshana that curved back in, then Conway defeated by Dhananjaya de Silva, dismissed by an offspinner for the first time in T20Is. Kane Williamson followed inside the fielding restrictions, edging a drive against Kasun Rajitha, and Sri Lanka were swarming.
Then a moment. It felt like it could be big when it happened. It proved to be gargantuan. Phillips aimed to loft Wanindu Hasaranga over the off side towards the enticingly short boundary but didn't middle the shot, and it was heading straight into the hands of Pathum Nissanka. Only it bounced out of his hands. Phillips was on 12.
Phillips struck ten fours and four sixes in his 64-ball 104•ICC via Getty Images
"I still feel like it was the right choice and the right option," Phillips said. "I hit it pretty nicely, but unfortunately it just wasn't wide enough. At the end of the day, luck definitely does play a lot in this game, and today I was on the right end of the luck."
At the end of the ninth over Phillips was 22 off 22 balls. A first six, helped over fine leg, followed before the midway mark but New Zealand had certainly not wrestled back a position of strength.
Three overs later, they had only progressed as far as 76 for 3 from 13. Phillips was 41 off 36. He was given another life in the 14th over, albeit a more difficult chance to the captain, Dasun Shanaka, running in from long-off. His fifty came up next ball, from 39 deliveries. The next fifty would take just 22. As he moved through the gears, one shot stood out when he slice-drove Chamika Karunaratne through backward point with such timing and placement that deep third, who was only a few metres from it in the end, was unable to intercept.
But beyond the boundaries, it was the running. Leading into the tournament, ESPNcricinfo's writers were asked to pick out players who did certain disciplines the best. Phillips did not make the running-between-wickets category. It was, to be fair, probably an oversight. His judgement of a run and speed are outstanding.
"The way the Sri Lankan bowlers bowled with the back of their hand slow balls, those were a little bit [of variable bounce]," he said. "Some would pop off aggressively, and some would stay quite low, which made things quite tough. Hence the reason the running between the wickets became quite crucial. Whether we mis-hit it or not, we were trying to put the fielders under as much pressure as possible."
Daryl Mitchell, who had played a vital supporting hand, was out for 22 off 24 balls. Jimmy Neesham made 5 off 8. But Phillips was playing a different game by then. When Theekshana came back, he twice moved outside his leg stump to open the off side and flayed him for consecutive sixes. He reached his hundred by pulling the same bowler through square leg. New Zealand made 91 off their last seven overs. This year, Phillips now averages 51.36 in T20Is at a strike rate of 154.37.
"That was a very special knock," Mitchell said. "He has got a lot of talent but to do it on a surface like that was challenging at times. I haven't seen many better T20 knocks under that sort of pressure."
In New Zealand's opening game of the tournament against Australia, it was his spectacular diving catch near the boundary that left a lasting impression. This time there was a bit less of him in the field as the effects of the heat and his energy-sapping sprints between the wickets took its toll. When he left the field late in the game, with cramps, he collapsed in a heap behind the boundary boards.
"I tried to get out there," he said. "Unfortunately, the cramp got the better of me today."