Gunathilaka, Dilshan keep series alive
Sri Lanka 277 for 2 (Dilshan 91, Thirimanne 87*, Gunathilaka 65) beat New Zealand 276 for 8 (Williamson 59, Santner 38, Chameera 2-38) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Three Sri Lanka rookies set the team's ODI series alight before Tillakaratne Dilshan's slow-burn 91 provided the substance of their chase of 277. Sri Lanka's eight-wicket victory, achieved with 22 balls to spare, will bring some joy to a tour that had largely been disappointing so far. The apparent ease of the win, and the bright hands played by Danushka Gunathilaka, Jeffrey Vandersay and Dushmantha Chameera will instill a little hope, for the short and long term.
Dilshan's sage innings was perhaps more vital to Sri Lanka's win, but it had been Gunathilaka's 65 from 45 that had inspired the chase. Having fallen cheaply in each of his first two ODI innings, his off-side game was purring almost from the outset on a slow Nelson pitch. Chameera's pace continued to envenom the attack on a breakthrough tour for him. He picked up the game's best figures of 2 for 38, while legspinner Vandersay made a crucial double-strike to rein New Zealand in, in their 18th over. Lahiru Thirimanne's 87 not out - the last in Sri Lanka's list of encouraging performances - saw the chase home.
New Zealand's batsmen will perhaps ponder wasted starts, after five made 30 but only Kane Williamson made a half-century. Perhaps even more worrying will be their injury list. Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan were both seen hobbling off the field during the chase. Brendon McCullum had also missed this game with back stiffness - Williamson leading in his stead. The result brings their 12-match ODI winning streak at home to an end.
Gunathilaka began with a three through cover point, and would cream five square fours on the off side. There were also four sixes - one smoked powerfully down the ground off Doug Bracewell, and two more hooked into the grass banks beyond deep square leg. With little movement from the deck for New Zealand's quicks, Williamson dismantled the slip cordon to strengthen the off side, but Gunathilaka continued to pierce the ring.
The innings was memorable for his stillness at the crease, the time he seemingly had to play even Adam Milne's quick deliveries, as well as the speed of the ball off his blade. Sri Lanka sped to 50 in the sixth over. They were still traveling at close to eight runs an over when he guided a ball off the face of the bat to wide slip, in the 13th over.
That rapid start would prove crucial for Thirimanne, who was baited outside the off stump for the first few overs of his innings. New Zealand fed his favoured cover drive, but packed the cover region with fielders, who stopped many of those shots. With the required rate so low, he could afford to be 4 runs off 17 balls. When Thirimanne eventually found the gaps, and his timing, he progressed quickly enough, finishing with a strike rate of 84.
Dilshan's 91 off 92 balls was forged of the nous and restraint typical of his later years. He was content to feed Gunathilaka the singles while the young batsman attacked, then reclaimed the reins for the chase while Thirimanne spluttered through the early part of his innings. Each of Dilshan's nine fours came through the leg side. He was so untroubled, a march to triple figures almost seemed certain until he ran himself out, attempting a non-existent single to backward square leg, then falling short of his crease when Thirimanne sent him back.
Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal completed the chase as New Zealand's quicks faltered. They had been guilty of bowling too short on a pitch that did not provide as much bounce as the surface in Christchurch had. New Zealand's lack of a front-line spinner was also somewhat exposed. Mitchell Santner and Williamson bowled 18 overs between them, but were easily defused.
Earlier, Chameera had had Martin Guptill caught at point for 30 and, with McCullum out, the rest of New Zealand's innings was sober in comparison to the eruptions at Christchurch. Williamson was fluent as ever, memorably making room to cream Angelo Mathews in the arc between backward point and cover for three consecutive boundaries in the 14th over, as he and Tom Latham put on 60 for the second wicket. But Vandersay soon had Latham caught sweeping, beat Ross Taylor's outside edge next ball, then had him caught at slip, to engineer Sri Lanka's first major advance in the match.
Through the middle overs, Sri Lanka found ways to make regular dents. Chameera bowled Henry Nicholls off an inside edge in the 28th over. Having cruised to his seventh 50-plus score in ten innings, Williamson miscued a Milinda Siriwardana full toss to mid-on. Luke Ronchi's poor stretch with the bat then continued, when his top-edged pull finished in the hands of deep square leg. Having been placed at 102 for 3 in 18 overs, New Zealand found themselves 192 for 6 in 38 overs.
Mathews chose to bowl his attacking young bowlers out before the death, and though neither took any late wickets, Chameera did effect another dismissal. Mitchell Santner's innings had just begun to gain momentum, when, having missed a Chameera short ball that thudded into his thighs, he took off indecisively for a single, then turned back. He was caught short of the crease as Chameera hit the stumps with an under-arm throw.
Joined at 215 for 7 Bracewell then batted sagely with Milne, to put on 42 before Tim Southee's 18 not out from 4 deliveries raised New Zealand to 276. That score would prove at least 25 too few. Of the six ODIs at Saxton Oval now, five have been won by the chasing side.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando