Cardiff: The manner in which New Zealand lost their way after lunch against Sri Lanka on Sunday (June 9) made this a fascinating match for those watching, and a needlessly nerve-racking one for those in the dressing room. From 48 for 1, they lost three wickets for one run and then stumbled to 80 for 6 before the brothers McCullum got them within sight of the target. Both fell to Lasith Malinga, but with a liberal slice of luck, Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan were able to see them past an extremely modest target.
"You sort of expect to chase 138 every day of the week," said a relieved Brendon McCullum afterwards. "Then you see the ball sort of turning, stopping, keeping low and reverse-swinging, and you know that they've got Malinga and Herath, who are quality bowlers. We probably got out of jail." (Also read: Stats from the match)
Had New Zealand lost, after dominating so much of the match, it would probably have done incalculable damage to the spirit. McCullum admitted as much. "It would have been quite a tough one to come back from if we hadn't gotten across the line. And whilst it wasn't as clinical as we'd like with bat in hand, we still managed to fall across the line. The [two] points are incredibly valuable especially against a team as dangerous as Sri Lanka." (Read the full match report here)
The brothers added 35, and it was Nathan rather than Brendon that played with greater freedom. "It was just a matter of us trying to get a partnership together and trying to be as confident as I could, and help Brendon out by scoring some runs as well and not just leaving it up to him," said Nathan after the game. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish it off between the two of us, which would have been nice and a lot more relieving for everyone else. But we got across the line in the end, that's the most important thing."
Brendon wasn't too critical of his batsmen despite the mid-innings collapse. "I think we've got a good mix of strokemakers, and I guess some craft players," he said. "They're not always going to come off, but I think we're starting to get some familiarity about our batting as well in this form of the game. Today's wicket was an incredibly difficult one to bat on, but you've got to put that in the mix as well."
These days, everyone practices bowling and facing slow yorkers. But fronting up to them when Malinga is bowling is quite a different proposition. "I thought he bowled brilliantly today, and was probably unlucky not to come out on the right side of the result," said McCullum. "But it's hard to prepare for that sort of bowling, because once he executes as well as he did, he's probably the best in the world at it. We're just thankful that even as good as he was today, we still managed to get the win." (Related: Dilshan, Jayawardene reprimanded for excessive appealing)
Another positive for New Zealand came in the shape of Daniel Vettori's return to the side. He moved gingerly at times, and McCullum suggested that his participation in Wednesday's match against Australia at Edgbaston would depend on the conditions. "His wicket of [Mahela] Jayawardene was a huge one for us," said McCullum. "I thought he was valuable from that point of view, but also in the other overs, he asked a lot of questions. I think he'll be okay for the next few games. He's certainly no spring chicken in the field, but a couple of us aren't quite what we used to be as well."