An intriguingly long fuse with dazzling fireworks at the end; that was Ross Taylor’s way of celebrating his birthday.
New Zealand were facing Pakistan in a Group A encounter. The Kiwis' captain Daniel Vettori had chosen to bat after winning the toss. After the hasty exit of Brendon McCullum and a slow trot by Jamie How, Taylor walked into the party. Stumper Kamran Akmal must have been aware of the occasion, for he gave not one but two presents immediately on his arrival.
Taylor’s second delivery, a searing one from Shoaib Akhtar left him just enough and took the edge of the bat. The ball flew between Kamran and Younis Khan at first slip, a wicketkeeper’s catch that caught the man with the gauntlet in two minds and sped to the boundary. A relieved Taylor smashed the next one to the backward point boundary. Then Taylor nicked again, giving Kamran another opportunity to spill the ball and hand over the second gift within minutes.
Martin Guptill, hitherto enterprising, went into his shell. The pair though steadily improved the partnership to 50 runs. By then Guptill had also brought up his half-century. Soon after, he was bowled by Shahid Afridi. James Franklin did not last long. Taylor found an able ally in the experienced Scott Styris, who became the beneficiary of another dropped catch by Kamran. Taylor reached his fifty off 78 balls with four boundaries. The batting Powerplay was taken in the 42nd over but instead of big hits, it produced the wicket of Styris, who was adjudged LBW against the bowling of Umar Gul. The partnership was worth 62.
Nathan McCullum hit a four and a six in his first six deliveries. Taking the cue, Taylor swept Afridi into the stands behind square-leg. McCullum hit one into the crowd over mid-wicket as Umar Gul pitched short. Gul, however, soon got his revenge as McCullum played a slower one on to the stumps.
The floodgates opened with four overs left. New Zealand were standing at 210 for six and Taylor was on 76 off 111 balls. The fiery Shoaib Akhtar had the ball again. The first one was full and wide on the off, and Taylor sliced it into the ropes at backward-point.
Another full-toss arrived, which Taylor hammered over square-leg for his second six. Searching for a yorker, Shoaib again delivered full and Taylor went over mid-wicket for one more six. Shoaib tried a slower one which went wide outside off. A bit of calm returned as Taylor failed to connect a pull. But there was more excitement as Taylor lofted a drive into the cover fence.
An exasperated Shoaib bowled a wide outside leg. The over seemed never-ending for the fuming paceman and as he dug in the last one, Taylor pulled it mercilessly over mid-wicket for six, ringing in his century with panache. He had faced 117 deliveries and struck 6 fours and 4 sixes.
Fifteen runs came off the next over as Jacob Oram tonked a four and a six. In the penultimate over, Taylor drove Abdul Razzaq inside-out to the extra-cover boundary. He fetched the next from outside off and slog-swept it over mid-wicket for a six.
Following a wide, he swung again from the off for another six in the same direction. The rattled Razzaq sent down a wide once more, after which Taylor picked up two runs. He then slammed an over-pitched one straight to the ropes. The last was another full-toss, which Taylor slammed over mid-wicket for yet another six. Thirty runs came off this over; Taylor had scored 60 from his last 13 deliveries.
Oram rocketed two more sixes in the last over before holing out. The pair had rattled up 85 runs in 3.4 overs. New Zealand piled up 302 for seven. Taylor returned unbeaten with 131 off 124 balls with 8 fours and 7 sixes. Pakistan were stunned and folded up for 192 inside 42 overs. The elated Taylor said, “I had a bit of luck early on which I put down to my birthday but towards the end, I hit a few boundaries which was pretty sweet.”
New Zealand: 302 for 7 wickets (50 overs), Pakistan: 192 all out (41.4 overs)Published 17 May 2019, 02:16 IST