New Zealand’s unceasing zest for scripting cricketing fight-backs with their backs to the wall sent ripples halfway across the globe on Monday.
For those who thought they had seen enough drama to last a lifetime during the 2019 World Cup final – decided by a boundary count-back rule in England’s favour after a tied Super Over – New Zealand offered a reminder about why they can never be written off.
And as Kane Williamson marshalled the final-day chase with a brilliant century, setting up a thrilling last-ball win that went down to a third-umpire run-out call, Indian fans abandoned the final Test against Australia in Ahmedabad to follow the riveting action in Christchurch with bated breath.
Riding on Williamson’s blade was India’s place in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia, who were pushing the fourth Test towards a draw. India’s 2-1 series win would not have been enough if Sri Lanka had won 2-0 in New Zealand.
India started the fifth day of the Ahmedabad Test several time zones away from Christchurch. They knew a draw or loss would hinder their chances of back-to-back WTC final appearances if Sri Lanka won the first Test at the Hagley Oval.
The visitors were the favourites as New Zealand were left to get 257 runs from 52 overs with nine wickets in hand after rain washed out one-and-a-half sessions of play. But even as Sri Lanka’s bowlers kept chipping away, Williamson’s counterattacking hundred kept New Zealand in the chase.
Cut to the final over, by pacer Asitha Fernando. Seven down, New Zealand need eight to win. First ball, Williamson hit to long-on but slipped and took only one. Second, a wide full toss. Matt Henry took a single. Six to win off four. Third ball, Williamson hit to midwicket but Henry was run out going for a second run.
With five runs needed off three deliveries, birthday boy Neil Wagner (he turned 37) walked in nursing a bulging disc that had kept him from bowling for most of the second innings. He had already been ruled out of the second Test. Fernando bowled wide and full and Williamson slapped it square of the wicket for four to tie the scores.
Fernando then bowled a short delivery that wasn’t called wide. The final ball was also a bouncer that Williamson missed, but set off anyway. Wagner scampered through as wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella’s throw missed the stumps; Fernando collected the ball mid-pitch, turned, and scored a direct hit at Williamson’s end. TV replays though showed he had just made his ground with a desperate lunging dive.
The job was done. The miracle accomplished.