Taylor parties in Pallekele
Ross Taylor celebrated his 27th birthday with a scintillating century as New Zealand cruised to a 110-run win against Pakistan at Pallekele.
Taylor, who has been below his best in one-day internationals for much of the last year, emphatically announced his return to form with a beautifully-paced 131 not out from 124 balls, featuring eight fours and seven sixes.
Having been reprieved by erratic wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal on nought and four, the right-hander found allies in opener Martin Guptill and Scott Styris, with whom he shared fifty partnerships as the Black Caps steadily built a strong base.
In the last five overs Taylor hit the accelerator to demolish Pakistan’s attack - taking a particular liking for the leg-side boundary as New Zealand’s third hundred in a total of 302 for seven came from just 29 balls.
“I had a bit of luck early on, even when I was at 30 or 40, but the way Nathan McCullum and Jake (Oram) came out and hit showed me the way to play,” said Taylor.
It was much to the delight of a healthy crowd at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, hosting its first international game which could be Daniel Vettori’s last as Black Caps captain.
Vettori, who will stand down after the World Cup, limped off early in Pakistan's reply after injuring his right knee while attempting to save four at mid-on and went to hospital.
New Zealand barely missed their skipper and leading spinner as they reduced their opponents to 66 for six in the 18th over before dismissing them in the 42nd. The result sees the Black Caps take over from Pakistan at the top of Group A, albeit on net run rate.
“To have them six down after 20 overs was a credit to the bowlers,” Taylor added. “In the end we had a pleasing result.”
Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi said: “We didn't bowl well, we didn't field well. But I am confident in my team and myself. We will not repeat this performance.”
Vettori won the toss but Shoaib Akhtar struck in the first over, bowling Brendon McCullum the ball after a free-hit maximum over midwicket.
Jamie How found it slow going in the opening powerplay although Guptill responded to the bowling powerplay being taken in the 12th over with two fours off Abdul Razzaq. Umar Gul put How out of his misery in the next, trapping the right-hander in front for four from 29 deliveries.
Taylor was soon on the offensive with successive fours off Shoaib - although the first bisected slip and keeper Kamran, who shelled a regulation Taylor edge later in the over - as 24 came from the powerplay.
A period of consolidation followed with Guptill and Taylor sharing a 57-run stand that finished when Shahid Afridi beat the former in the flight to bowl him between bat and pad for 57 from 86 balls. It was Afridi’s 15th wicket in four games at this World Cup.
Mohammad Hafeez had James Franklin lbw despite a review and Pakistan should have had three wickets in as many overs but for Kamran putting down Styris off Afridi.
There was more misery for Afridi when Taylor’s half-chance at backward point on 45 went to ground and the right-hander went smoothly past 50 as he and Styris added 62. Their alliance ended in the first over of the batting powerplay, the 42nd, when Styris walked across his stumps and was trapped in front by Gul for 28.
Taylor and Nathan McCullum made hay in the remainder of the fielding restrictions, during which 37 came, the latter collecting two leg-side sixes before being beaten by a slower ball from Gul, who claimed 3-32 from 10 overs.
Undeterred, Taylor flayed 28 and 30 respectively from Shoaib and Razzaq’s comeback overs. Jacob Oram also got in on the act with 25 from nine Abdur Rehman deliveries before holing out to long-on off the left-arm spinner in the final over, having put on 85 in 3.4 overs with Taylor as 100 came from the last five.
Pakistan’s pursuit was barely worthy of the name from the moment Tim Southee had Mohammad Hafeez lbw despite a review. Kyle Mills then struck twice, trapping opener Ahmed Shehzad in front and uprooting Younus Khan’s off stump.
Southee, who had been unable to hold a sharp return chance from Kamran, removed the keeper-batsman via an edge to Taylor at first slip.
Misbah-ul-Haq survived a high lbw review from Oram but fell later in the immediately-taken bowling powerplay, caught by Styris at gully off Southee - who took 3-25 from eight overs.
Afridi whipped Oram for consecutive fours and lifted Franklin for a maximum over long-on in the following over but Oram beat the right-hander’s defence in the next.
Umar Akmal and Razzaq helped Pakistan to three figures but the writing was on the wall when the former chipped Nathan McCullum to Oram at deep midwicket on 38. The off-spinner struck again as Rehman’s appeal against a leg before shout was in vain.
Razzaq became the fourth player to score 5,000 ODI runs combined with 250 wickets en route to 62 from 74 balls, including nine fours. He holed out to Oram at long-on off Styris, having added 66 with Gul who finished unbeaten on 34, and last man Shoaib fell in similar fashion later in the over, taken by Nathan McCullum at mid-on.