Sri Lanka sneak a thriller after silken Fulton ton
If Sri Lanka were happy with the score they put on the board, it was only because of the dismal run they have endured, for 300 was definitely on the cards had one of their batsmen spent enough time at the crease to convert a valuable fifty into an invaluable 100. Once again Sri Lanka's openers gave them a brisk start, but it was at the cost of wickets. From 49 for 2 the usually aggressive middle-order was left with no choice but to sacrifice strokeplay and concentrate on consolidation.
Fortunately for Sri Lanka, though, Tillakaratne Dilshan came through with a sensible 43 at No. 4, while Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu stretched the advantage with innovative and entertaining half-centuries. The fact that no batsman made more than Sangakkara's 63, and no partnership stretched to three figures ensured that Sri Lanka had put enough on the board to give their bowlers a fighting chance. It was a chance they grabbed with both hands, pulling back a morale-boosting win and averting the whitewash.
But the real action began when New Zealand began their chase. Chaminda Vaas, as he has done so often in his career, provided the early breakthrough. Stephen Fleming, declared fit to play after he passed a fitness test for a groin niggle, fell over in his crease and was trapped in front by a ball that pitched on the stumps, and was back in the pavilion for a duck. Lou Vincent, perhaps disconcerted by the manner in which Ruchira Perera was spraying the ball all over the place, drove frentically at anything pitched in his half, and made only 5 before smacking one straight to Jehan Mubarak at cover.
Fulton then took it upon himself to play the long innings that could take New Zealand home. He drew himself up to his full height, put his front foot well down the pitch and defended and drove with equal surety. His method was simple and elegant, and the results were there for all to see. While batting sensibly, though, Fulton was not shy of playing the big shot, as Dilhara Fernando found, being pulled for a humungous six onto the roof at square-leg and then on-driven for another maximum hit.
Nathan Astle was an ideal foil to Fulton. Experienced enough to know what his role was, Astle worked the singles, freeing his arms only when the ball begged to be hit. The third-wicket partnership burgeoned to 108 before Astle, on 47, could not clear Fernando at mid-on off the legspin of Bandara.
Hamish Marshall then joined battle, and was a sharp contrast to Fulton, all short-arm jabs and busy forcing drives. He was able to hit the ball with some power, and soon the pressure was on Sri Lanka again as another partnership began to build. Although not as fluent his opposite number, Marshall helped add 78 for the fourth wicket. Perera, brought back into the attack for a second spell then got one to grip the pitch and Marshall's attempted push to the leg side resulted in a leading edge back to the bowler.
Fulton's fluency failed him momentarily as he tip-toed his way through the nervous nineties, and it was only a brisk drive through cover off Bandara that restored normalcy to proceedings. Fulton raised his bat to acknowledge the cheers of an appreciative Napier crowd, but the job was not done yet. He could only add 12 more to his total, before being run out attempting a tight second run, and New Zealand still needed 50 runs to win, from 45 balls. Brendon McCullum failed under pressure, Vaas bowled a perfect over to nail Vettori with a yorker, and the game was slipping away from New Zealand at 236 for 7, with 38 needed from 28 balls. Cairns - let off by Sangakkara who fluffed a simple stumping chance off Bandara - gave Sri Lanka the shivers smashing a four and a six off Bandara. But when he was trapped in front by Vaas for a 27-ball 28 the task became too tough for the tailenders. Sri Lanka tightened the screws, shot out New Zealand for 253 and ensured they did not return home empty handed. And once again it was Vaas, with 4 for 28, who had played a pivotal role.
Upul Tharanga c Fulton b Martin 11 (44 for 1)
Flashed a wide ball to second slip
Jehan Mubarak c Martin b Bond 26 (49 for 2)
Slashed to third-man
Tillakaratne Dilshan c McCullum b Martin 43 (129 for 3)
Drove hard at a ball outside off without being to the pitch of the ball
Kumar Sangakkara c Fulton b Astle 58 (178 for 4)
Chipped to square-leg
Mahela Jayawardene c Astle b Martin 30 (233 for 5)
Drove a wide ball straight to cover
Marvan Atapattu b Bond 69 (272 for 6)
Came down the pitch and missed a yorker
Stephen Fleming lbw b Vaas 0 (3 for 1)
Fell over and trapped in front
Lou Vincent c Mubarak b Perera 5 (13 for 2)
Holed out to cover
Nathan Astle c Fernando b Bandara 47 (121 for 3)
Failed to clear mid-on
Hamish Marshall c & b Bandara 35 (199 for 4)
Closed the face early and popped a return catch off the leading edge
Peter Fulton run out (Dilshan/Sangakkara) 112 (224 for 5)
Found short attempting a tight second
Brendon McCullum c Atapattu b Perrera 2 (231 for 6)
Caught well by cover running back
Daniel Vettori b Vaas 3 (236 for 7)
Cleaned up by a perfect yorker
Chris Cairns lbw b Vaas 28 (249 for 8)
Swept and missed a straight one
James Franklin b Vaas 2 (252 for 9)
Missed a full, straight ball
Chris Martin b Fernando 0 (253 for 10)
Swung and missed
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo