NZ torn apart at Eden Park

New Zealand were left wide-eyed and perplexed after heading into today’s fourth one-day international against Sri Lanka in Auckland with a series lead and coming out of it having only just avoided a 200-run defeat and their lowest-ever ODI total. Sri Lanka were destructive with the bat and looked at times to be bowling with some sort of explosive device as they tore apart what was, due to the rotation policy, a somewhat brittle New Zealand lineup.

Like so many ODIs have in the past, the carnage began with Sanath Jayasuriya. The Sri Lankans put on 102 for the first wicket in 15 overs, with Jayasuriya’s partner Upul Tharanga contributing just 22. Jayasuriya smashed 70 from just 44 balls with seven fours and five sixes, in the process breaking the world record for sixes in ODI cricket, boosting Sri Lanka’s run rate up to 7 and setting them seemingly for a monstrous score.

But when he departed to a catch on the boundary by Michael Mason off the bowling of Mark Gillespie, the run rate fell away almost as quickly as New Zealand’s middle order later in the day. Gillespie became something of a hero with the crowd as he bounced back from being hit for six from his first ball and ten from his first over with an amazing spell in which he picked up three wickets in the space of two overs, following up the scalp of Jayasuriya with those of struggling captain Mahela Jayawardene for 0 and then Tharanga for 22.

However, Sri Lanka then again produced something New Zealand failed to produce once in their chase – a solid partnership. Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu started slowly, with the latter scoring just one from his first 20 balls, but gradually gained momentum and turned the strike over well as they rebuilt after the brief spell of destruction brought about by Gillespie’s first spell. The two put on 91 before Atapattu fell to Andre Adams for 34, by which time Sangakkara was ready to launch his attack. He started scoring at a rate somewhat alarming to New Zealand supporters and seemed to be eyeing a century before being dismissed in the first over of Bond’s final spell, top edging a short ball and being caught by Ross Taylor for 79, which in the end proved to be a higher score than the entire New Zealand team managed.

Sri Lanka ended up on 262-6, a score both sides would have been fairly happy with. Sri Lanka because they had reached a score they could back their high-class bowling attack to defend, and New Zealand because a score well over 300 was a strong possibility when Jayasuriya was in full flight. Shane Bond, who picked up two wickets, and particularly Mark Gillespie bowled brilliantly and are largely responsible for keeping the score below 280.

New Zealand’s chase began just like all of their other innings in this series have – with Brendon McCullum smashing a ball powerfully to the boundary and bringing the crowd to their feet. But from there it all went downhill. Stephen Fleming, who looked short of match practice but surely for some reason other than that he was rested for the first three ODIs, fell leg before to Chaminda Vaas without scoring, and McCullum followed a couple of overs later after scoring all of the 17 runs on the board. In a stunning collapse Ross Taylor, Peter Fulton and Hamish Marshall all followed leg before, although there was some doubt involved in some of the umpiring decisions, and from there no one but the recalled Craig McMillan managed to reach double figures.

McMillan batted valiantly on, playing with a maturity and patience not normally associated with his batting, watching helplessly as one by one his partners were cut down by a complete and flawless bowling performance by the Sri Lankans. Seeing Shane Bond walk out to join him at number eight, one can only imagine what his thoughts must have been relating to the rotation policy employed for this series.

In the end New Zealand managed just 73 runs in an agonising two-hour demolition, Sri Lanka levelling the series with a 189-run win that was more fitting for a team marching towards a whitewash than one levelling a series at 2-2.

The two teams now head to Hamilton for the fifth and deciding ODI, with Sri Lanka enjoying the road trip much more than the New Zealanders, who have been left with a great deal to think about. New Zealand supporters can only hope that the rotation policy is thrown out the window of the New Zealand team bus somewhere near Meremere, and that Vaas and his team-mates are somewhat less unplayable come Tuesday.

Sri Lanka 262-8
Kumar Sangakkara 79, Sanath Jayasuriya 70
Mark Gillespie 3-39, Shane Bond 2-47

New Zealand 73 all out
Craig McMillan 29 no, Brendon McCullum 17
Lasith Malinga 3-10, Chaminda Vaas 3-14

Sri Lanka won by 189 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Match: Sanath Jayasuriya – 70 (44)

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