It was a thrill from the first moment.
There was no introductory platform built with relative sanity on which the later drama was enacted.
This match was pumping adrenaline from the word go. From the moment Kyle Mills ran in to bowl the first ball. It cut away from the back of the length, flew from the thick outside edge of the bat of Kusal Perera, and skipper Brendon McCullum flew from the second slip to take it airborne, shoulder high.
From then on, it was all action during the 74 overs and a bit that the match went on at Cardiff. Some sensational bowling of every form, against which all but the classiest struggled to survive. And in the end a deadly saga of yorkers.
The Sanga masterclass
After the early Mills strike, Mitchell McClenaghan ran in from the other end. His introduction to ODIs could not have had been better. He had 18 wickets so far, in 7 matches, average 18.61, strike rate 22.6. And this wicket, with help for every sort of bowler sharpened his arsenals with telling effect. And little did he know that bowling would only be half his job for the day.
Tilakratne Dilshan met fire with fire. Twice he clipped the left-arm seamer past square for two and ended the over with a punch down the ground for four.
Kumar Sangakkara, all class and finesse, approached the situation with prudence. Runs would be difficult, and a steady start was the recipe for success. Not so for Dilshan. Off the next McClenaghan over he executed a scorching pull for four.
It was incisive bowling, met with high-class batsmanship. Captured in three deliveries. The last ball of the fourth over and the first two of the fifth.
Mills had bowled a testing line outside the off-stump to Sanga, which the batsman had negotiated with caution. Now he pitched further up, and the master went down on his knee and executed the famed cover drive. It rocketed to the fence in an act of delight.
The over completed, McClenaghan ran in and pitched up. Dilshan’s cover drive was more uppish, more brutal and less about class; but the effect was the same.
The following ball pitched on the off and came back a touch. The batsman was beaten on the forward push. The top of the middle stump was hit. 27 for 2. Perhaps the most entertaining stand in the entire match had come to an end.
What followed thereafter was a battle between the New Zealand bowlers and the masterclass of Sangakkara.
Daniel Vettori, in his first ODI for two years, replacing Gran Eliott, was brought in early in the 8th over. Mahela Jayawardene played for the turn that was not there and was caught adjacent.
Dinesh Chandimal went forward to one from Mills that cocked up and edged to the keeper. 34 for 4.
Skipper Angelo Matthews tried to reconstruct the innings, to steady the ship after these numbing blows. Sangakkara was placid, tranquil, almost playing on a different wicket. But after 34 balls that got him 9, the captain was cleaned up by McClenaghan.
Lahiru Thiramane was out to a horrible mix-up in the middle. 81 for 5.
Sangakkara had proceeded to a sedate 37. As Thisara Perera walked in to join him, the years of experience told him that pushing around would not amount to much in these conditions. Kane Williamson’s off-spin was in operation, and the southpaw creamed him for three boundaries off successive balls.
Perera had the good fortune to be dropped by Tim Southee, off a regulation return catch. In the context of the match, he made quite a bit out of his escape. Two fine boundaries, and for a while he became the support Sanga had needed all the while. At the other end Sri Lanka’s greatest ever batsman was stroking the ball with ease, all composure against this excellent attack.
But the stand of 36 came to an end when Perera tried to heave McClenaghan and holed out to mid-on.
With the experienced Rangana Herath at the other end, Sanga took the team as far as 135. And then he tried to drive Nathan McCullum, the brother of the captain, over the cover and sliced it to backward point. He had struck a delightful 68, was the eighth out and now the end was in sight.
Indeed McCullum and McClenaghan made short work of the rest of the batting and the Sri Lankan innings amounted to just 138.
The tottering reply
The Kiwi response started with a predictable approach. The target was small, Lasith Malinga was the man to be played out. The rest would fall in place.
Martin Guptill defended every delivery of the first over from the curly haired, round-armed assassin. At the other end, he drilled Shaminda Eranga for four.
But the Cardiff wicket had something for everyone. Eranga purchased bounce, and Luke Ronchi succumbed, feathering one to Sangakkara. 14 for 1. It would not be that easy.
There followed a productive partnership. Kane Williamson was the classy man for New Zealand. Guptill was looking good. Sri Lanka wasted their review as they insisted on questioning a negated leg-before decision concerning Williamson, although there was a big inside edge.
Runs started to flow. Sri Lanka tried to emulate the introduction of Vettori by tossing the ball to Herath in the 8th over. Williamson squeezed him over short fine leg for four, not off the middle. Guptill drove and pulled the dangerous Malinga for two more boundaries. Williamson punched Malinga through extra cover and the batsmen sprinted four. 48 for 1 in the 9th over. It was resembling a cakewalk.
And now Malinga ran in and delivered a deceptive slow full toss. Williamson was beaten by the change of pace and the trajectory. He was struck on the pad, right in front of the middle stump. Curiously, he wanted to review it. He could not have been more plumb.
At the other end, Herath tossed up two deliveries to Ross Taylor and then sent in one with the arm. The batsman played outside the line. The appeal for leg before was upheld. Suddenly it was 49 for 3.
Malinga had bowled 5, with figures of 1 for 19. Matthews rested him now, and Eranga had another go. The first ball of this new spell was short and took the edge of Guptill’s defensive bat. Jayawardene held it over his head at slip. 49 for 4, and suddenly the match was alive. Guptill had got 25 off 24, and the Lankans were happy to see him back.
Brendon McCullum and James Franklin. Years later they would play together for Middlesex. Now they were in the middle, trying to hold together a tottering Kiwi innings.
But McCullum’s manner of the dogged innings was not conventional. Off the second ball he faced, he essayed a reverse sweep off Herath. It struck him outside the off, on his boot, and ran away for a couple of leg-byes. And then both the men helped themselves to boundaries off Eranga.
Herath was handled with care. Eranga had dismissed the openers but was proving expensive. 5 overs for 30 was a luxury Lankans could not afford.
Dilshan came on. Spin from both ends on a pace friendly wicket. Left-handed Franklin on strike. The Lankan skipper pushed them through, outside the off. One big sweep was attempted, the ball thudding against the pad, lots of excitement.
And then, the fifth ball of the over. Pitched up, batsman forward, pushing at it, struck on the pad again. A vociferous shout, ringing through the Welsh landscapes. Umpire Rod Tucker looked, considered and then up went the finger. 70 for 5.
Vettori, the seasoned campaigner. At the other end McCullum the captain. A quiet Herath over. And then McCullum tried another reverse sweep, this time off Dilshan. A loud appeal, heart in the mouth, but impact outside off.
Five overs went by. Just 10 runs. The important thing was the batsmen were still there. Dilshan 3-1-2-1, he had not bowled half that well. Herath 6-0-18-1. He had bowled way better than those figures suggested.
Matthews opted for his trump card yet again. Malinga was back. 77 for 5. 62 to win. Four yorkers. The second ball, the fourth, the fifth that was wide and the fifth that was re-bowled. And then the last ball of the over, a slower but a yorker nonetheless. It struck the pad off the inside edge, but the finger went up. Vettori was unhappy. But Williamson had used up the review.
Malinga had struck. The yorker man. 80 for 6.
Brendon McCullum was joined by his elder brother, Nathan. Dilshan bowled. A loud appeal against the older sibling. Umpire unmoved.
And there was Herath back into the attack. Malinga had been taken off after sending back Vettori. A move that would keep Matthews awake at night.
It was not that the left-armer was expensive. Herath went for 3, Dilshan another 3, then Nathan McCullum chipped Herath over mid-on for four, another Dilshan over was negotiated for 1. But Sri Lanka needed wickets. The yorker man was, for some reason, patrolling the boundary.
Eranga was brought back now. A tight over for 3. But the Kiwis were inching towards the target. Thisara Perera came on and conceded just 2.
99 for 6 from 27. Sri Lanka needed wickets. They had gone 7 overs without one. Surely time for Malinga?
It was Eranga who bowled. Brendon McCullum drove him to deep cover for a single. That was the hundred. Psychological barrier.
Now Nathan McCullum flirted at one. It went to Sanga who appealed as if there was no tomorrow. Umpire unmoved. Snicko showed a definite edge. But Sri Lanka had also used up the reviews.
To rub salt into the wound, Nathan McCullum drove Eranga for four and pulled him for another.
It was only at the end of the 29th over, with the score reading 111 for 6, that Matthews brought back Malinga. And what followed was one of the most sensational spells in history.
The Malinga Magic
In ran the round arm slinger. Yorkers off the first, third, fourth balls. And the sixth, a slower yorker. Brendon McCullum played over it and the off stump was hit.
115 for 7. Brendon McCullum, the captain, the most dangerously explosive of batsmen, back for 18. Sri Lanka had been rebuked for excessive appealing. Malinga had ensured that they could do without that. His figures read 7-2-26-3.
Southee, of calm nerves, the next man. Herath’s over saw the remaining McCullum drive uppishly for 2, and Southee snick one for 2 more. 7 off it.
And at 122 for 7, it was back to Malinga.
The first ball … and predictably a yorker. The only caveat was that predictability did not make playing them any easier.
The second ball. An inswinging yorker. It struck Nathan McCullum on the back pad, in front of the leg stump. The superb hand of 32 came to an end. Malinga had four. He did not need fielders. He did not even need the pitch. He could do it with yorkers. It really seemed he would take a wicket every ball.
Mills and Southee. Four more Malinga deliveries. Two of them yorkers. Somehow they survived. 124 for 8. 15 remained. 12 more balls from Malinga to survive.
Herath bowled his last over now. Flighted deliveries, sandwiched between the flatter ones. Southee and Mills rotated the strike three times.
And now it was Malinga again. Desperate to knock over the last two. The yorkers.
First ball. Full, in-swinger. A loud appeal as it crashed into the pads. Would have gone down the leg side.
Second ball. Yorker. It hit Southee’s boot and bat and went to the third man boundary for four. The appeal for leg before was turned down. The Sri Lankans fumed. Replays showed it was boot first and would have crashed into the stumps. But the review had been used up in vain.
Words exchanged. Plenty of chat from the Lankans. Southee remained cucumber-cool.
Third ball. Full and on the leg stump. The pad hit again, but this time off a clear edge. Southee survived.
Fourth ball. Yorker. At least an attempted one. The drive was stopped at mid on. One run.
Fifth ball, dipping full toss. Mills just got the bat down in time. Disaster avoided.
Last ball of the over. Another full one, but just wide of the stumps. Dug out to cover.
A sigh of huge relief in the Kiwi camp. One over from Malinga survived. 9-2-33-4. 132 for 8. 8 to win.
It was Eranga now. Trying to emulate the yorkers of Malinga. Not that easy. One length ball. One high full toss. Off the fifth ball, a yorker did materialise. It got a wicket as well, but not in the expected way. Southee dug it out to mid on and ran. Thissara Perera swooped in and threw to the non-striker’s end. The stumps were missed, but it went down the pitch and hit the striker’s wicket with Mills out of the ground.
134 for 9. McClenaghan trudged out. In a fairly long career, he had crossed 10 in exactly half a dozen First-Class innings, twice in List A, never in ODIs.
Eranga was there with the final ball of the over. And McClenaghan got everything behind that one and defended.
Malinga again. Six balls. He needed to hit just once. Southee on strike.
In he ran. Yorker. But it was down the leg side. A wide. Four runs required now. One hit, or a snick.
Malinga walked back and turned. The curls bounced on that lion-like head, the arm came round the shoulder. A terrific yorker. Southee managed to edge it onto his pad.
Second ball. Full delivery. Off the inside edge and pad, it rolled back to the bowler.
Third ball. Variation. Length delivery. There was guile too. Southee tried to push it and got the inside edge to his pads again.
Fourth ball. Malinga charged in. Another yorker, an excellent one. On the middle stump, moving late towards leg. Southee managed to get his toe out of the way and slam his bat down. A hush descended on the ground.
Fifth ball. A regulation delivery. Pushed to cover point.
All the venom stored away for this last delivery. In ran the fantastic death bowler. The ball came in, fast, at the block hole. Southee dug it out to the off side. Maiden. Malinga’s spell over. 10-2-34-4. He had not been able to finish it.
As for Southee, he did not worry about a non-batsman at the other end, about to face a full over. The most crucial step was to play out the demon bowler. He had done that.
And now the Sri Lankan heads met for an in-match conference. Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dilshan, Malinga … all were there, as was Matthews. Who should bowl now?
In the end, it was Dilshan. It was the left-handedness of McClenaghan that prompted it. The fielders got around the bat.
Dilshan tossed the first one up. Inviting. Eager for the edge. McClenaghan was not interested. A dot.
The following ball was a bad one. On the leg stump. McClenaghan dabbed it to square leg for a run.
Three to score. Southee on strike. Would he try to hit a big one?
No. Dilshan’s next ball was gently patted to the leg and another single was scored. Southee had decided to let luck play its part.
137 for 9. 2 more required.
And now came the anti-climax.
Dilshan’s next delivery was down the leg side, far too wide. Sanga failed to gather it and a bye was run. And the umpire signalled a wide. Hence, the match was over with the two extras.
The Kiwis had squeezed through by one wicket.
One of the greatest of thrillers ever produced in the history of ODIs. When one man’s genius at bowling relentlessly at the blockhole had held an entire team at ransom.
Nathan McCullum, with 2 for 35 and that invaluable 32, was declared the Man of the Match. But it was a match specially crafted for Malinga, to showcase the art and science of his magnificent yorkers.
Sri Lanka 138 all out in 37.5 overs [max 50] (Kumar Sangakkara 68; McClenaghan 4 for 43) lost to New Zealand 139 for 9 in 36.3 overs (Nathan McCullum 32; Lasith Malinga 4 for 34) by 1 wickets with 81 balls remaining.