The first T20 between New Zealand and Sri Lanka was a closely fought one, with the hosts sneaking in to register a three-run triumph. The Kiwis held the upper hand for most part, but Sri Lanka’s batting depth ensured that they stayed in the hunt till the last over in spite of the fact that they lost early wickets yet again. Having said that, had the Lankans got off to a decent start, they could have ended up winning the match. The visitors had earlier done well to keep New Zealand to under 200 after the hosts had raced to 100 by the 11th over, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
Looking back at the chase, Milinda Siriwardana’s wicket at a key moment turned the tide in New Zealand’s favour. The middle order bat, who has been one of the finds of the tour for the visitors, once again stood up to the challenge with a mature 42, a knock which featured two fours and as many sixes apart from some good running between the wickets. But, with the score reading 153 for 6 in the 17th over, Siriwardana fell to Trent Boult. It was a massive blow, as the Lankans were looking up to him to take the side through.
With Siriwardana gone, Lanka failed to get over the line. The initial phase where Lanka lost 4 for 42 also came back to haunt the visitors. Tillakaratne Dilshan needed to fire early if Lanka wanted to get off to a confident start. But, he lasted only one ball. Dinesh Chandimal, Shehan Jayasuriya and skipper Angelo Mathews all fell in single-figure scores to put the New Zealanders ahead. Danushka Gunathilaka, however, kept the Lankans in with a chance with a fluent knock. His dismissal on 46 from 29 however again put the hosts in front.
New Zealand’s bowlers were put under pressure during various stages of the chase, but came out with their noses in front. Trent Boult stood out with his three wickets. Not only did he claim crucial scalps, but also kept things extremely tight in tense situations. Matt Henry, the hero of the last ODI, proved to be expensive, but he was again among the wickets. In fact, he got three big ones of Chandimal, Mathews and the dangerous looking Thisara Perera. Even towards the end, Grant Elliot held his nerve well as Sri Lanka needed 13 to win in his last over.
Earlier, New Zealand once again impressed with the bat. The openers batted brilliantly. Martin Guptill continued his serene form, smashing 58 from 34 with four fours and four sixes while Kane Williamson contributed 53 from 42. The opening pair batted with ease, adding 101 in under 11 overs. Colin Munro and Ross Taylor chipped in with quick cameos to further frustrate the Sri Lankan bowlers. At the same time, the Kiwis would have been disappointed at not having reached 200 after a great start. The New Zealand bowlers, however, saw to it that 182 was enough.
--By A Cricket Analyst