Having been thrashed in the Tests as well as the first two ODIs, Sri Lanka did not go into the do-or-die game against New Zealand at Nelson in a great frame of mind. Not many had given Angelo Mathews' young and inexperienced men a chance of doing too well. And, from what had been on show in the run-up to the Nelson match, their low expectations were justified. A loss at Nelson would have meant that the ODI series would have been decided with two games to go, rendering the remaining matches of little worth. New Zealand definitely went into the match as favourites, but Sri Lanka managed to find inspiration to stay alive.
Sri Lanka's emphatic victory at Nelson came completely from out of the blue. But, they should be extremely pleased with the manner of the triumph, especially after the kind of lows they have experienced on an extremely disappointing tour so far. There were multiple positives for the Lankans from the third match, most of them in the batting department. The biggest gain of all without doubt was the batting of opener Danushka Gunathilaka. He had struggled in the first two matches, but played a scintillating innings at Nelson to set up the triumph. Gunathilaka's brisk fifty was a mini-throwback to the Jayasuriya days.
While Gunathilaka was impressive, Sri Lanka needed a steady hand to guide them through what looked like a challenging target. In the current squad, veteran Tillakaratne Dilshan is the batsman best suited to take up the responsibility. However, he too wasn't in great nick going into the game. But, Dilshan demonstrated how valuable experience can be by guiding the innings after the initial flourish by Gunathilaka. He reined himself in, and was happy letting his younger partner do most of the big hitting. After Gunathilaka's departure, Dilshan found excellent support in Lahiru Thirimanne, another tick in the box. Thirimanne did not go into the game with too many runs behind him, but stood up well.
With the ball, Sri Lanka may have ended up leaking more runs than they should have. But, it must be said that their overall effort was a well-oiled one. More than one bowler put up his hand and delivered, pointing to a solid all-round show. Dushmantha Chameera has grown in leaps and bounds on this trip, and he stood out once again -- his pace troubling the Kiwi batsmen. The fast bowler found some good support in Jeffrey Vandersey, the leg spinner making an impression with his variations. Nuwan Pradeep was slightly on the expensive side, but did well to claim a couple of scalps.
Even while New Zealand ended with a decent score on the board, their overall batting effort was a disappointing one. A number of their players got starts, but only Kane Williamson crossed the fifty mark. Even he fell immediately after crossing the landmark, but more was expected of the others. With Brendon McCullum out with injury, the others in the team needed to stand up. Martin Guptill had a rare failure and, after that the rest could not stand up to the challenge. The likes of Tom Latham and Ross Taylor failed to fire. And, with the surface not supporting the fast bowlers, it ended up being a rather inefficient performance from the hosts.
-- By A Cricket Analyst