Ronchi, Elliott Shatter Records to Take New Zealand to 360!

A record-shattering sixth-wicket stand between Luke Ronchi and Grant Elliott yanked New Zealand out of the mire at 93 for 5, and sent them hurtling to 360 for 5, in what began as a counterattack, then grew into a sustained assault, then a gargantuan, unstoppable thing of terror. Their unbeaten stand of 267 off 180 balls was by a distance the highest ever for the sixth wicket, and is the second for any wicket for New Zealand.

Ronchi was chief architect, clobbering 170 from 99 balls, murdering anything pitched up, and never failing to slam the short balls over the leg-side fence. Rarely did he fail to execute the strokes he attempted, no matter how audacious. He was already bloody-minded when he came to the crease, but his appetite for boundaries only grew more voracious as the total became gargantuan. His maiden ton was scored from 74 balls. The next 70 runs were slammed off 25. He hit nine sixes and 14 fours in all.

Elliott was slightly more reserved in the early phase of their partnership, but once he had set himself a foundation with 25 runs off 35 balls, his strike rate moved smoothly upwards, even if he sought to give Ronchi more of the bowling. By the end of the innings, Elliott was creaming the dross Sri Lanka served up at the death almost as cleanly as his partner was was. His 104 not out came from 96 deliveries.

Sri Lanka were indisciplined with the ball to begin with, despite the seam movement on offer, but had become truly pathetic by the end of the innings. Suranga Lakmal missed his lengths more often than he hit them towards the death, traveling for 93 in his 10 overs. Nuwan Kulasekara nabbed two wickets with the new ball, but was almost as bad with the older one. He disappeared for 73 from his full quota.

Lasith Malinga’s absence was keenly felt at the death, but Angelo Mathews was also missing, thanks to a calf niggle. Acting captain Lahiru Thirimanne took two wickets with his seam-up deliveries, but was otherwise disappointing in the field, shelling difficult chances off Ronchi and Elliott once each. Elliott was 47 when the diving chance at short cover went down. Ronchi was already at 167 when the overhead chance, running back from point, was spilled in the last over.

Ronchi began his charge with two of the simplest sixes he will ever hit. Jeevan Mendis dropped the ball halfway down the pitch on successive deliveries, and was walloped over cow corner in the 25th over. The boundaries were scored almost at will from then on.

Sachithra Senanayake’s introduction to the attack had been delayed slightly, thanks to the earlier success of the seamers, but he was picked off effortlessly by Ronchi and Elliott, who used the sweep to excellent effect against his leg-stump line. They occasionally came down the pitch to the spinners, but were largely content to punish the bad balls – of which there were many – from the crease. Sri Lanka’s bowlers had by the 30th over failed to get anything out of the surface, and failed to string any sort of strategy together against the onslaught. The visitors would have had hopes of dismissing New Zealand for 175 after 20 overs, but by the 37th were trying to prevent 300.

Ronchi and Elliott strolled past their individual half-centuries, and by the 40th over, had catapulted New Zealand to 238 for 5. The last seven overs were a blur of boundaries, as Sri Lanka failed emphatically to execute a wide yorker plan with their quicks, instead routinely delivering knee-high full tosses, which the batsmen sometimes hammered down the ground, and at others, slapped to the offside fence. Towards the close, Thirimanne was relying on the offspin of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who fared no better than any of the others. The pair struck 122 runs from the last 10 overs, to complete one of the most emphatic lower-order comebacks in a tour brimming with them.

Earlier, Thirimanne spied a green-tinged surface and bowled first, having won Sri Lanka’s sixth toss in seven matches this tour. A breakthrough came at the earliest opportunity. Martin Guptill’s frustrating tour continued when he nicked behind first ball, chasing a full, wide one from Nuwan Kulasekara.

There was enough movement in the air and off the seam to prompt brief reticence even from Brendon McCullum in the early overs, but Sri Lanka did not bowl tightly enough to make optimum use of the conditions. Their main mistake early on was dropping him at point, on one, after which the boundaries quickly began to flow from his blade. Kane Williamson efficiently put away the poor balls, despite having been beaten by a few good ones, and quickly the New Zealand run rate was nearing six.

They hit 51 runs together, and it took two fine deliveries to dismiss each batsman. McCullum was caught in front by a Kulasekara indipper, before Williamson nicked a straightening Thisara Perera ball behind. There was to be unexpected joy for Sri Lanka, when Thirimanne’s sought to deliver the overs Mathews customarily contributes. He removed the out-of-sorts Ross Taylor in the 18th over, before winning an lbw decision against Corey Anderson in the 20th – though replays suggest the ball pitched marginally outside leg stump.

With New Zealand 93 for 5, Sri Lanka had an opportunity to dismiss them for a meagre score. As has been the theme throughout the series, they failed to shut down the lower middle order, and were punished in the most severe fashion imaginable.