New Zealand blueprint cheated by rain
New Zealand have been frustrated by the rain since they arrived in Sri Lanka, but having lost the second ODI to Sri Lanka by 14 runs via Duckworth-Lewis, they will now feel somewhat cheated by it.
Sri Lanka were not struggling by any means - in fact for most of their innings, they were cruising - but the pitch had begun to slow down markedly, and New Zealand were two wickets away from exposing a middle order that has at times proven brittle.
They will feel particularly aggrieved by the weather because they had batted so well, and in doing so, had charted out a blueprint for success, not only to break out of their present rut, but also for an ODI future which allows only four men in the deep at any point.
The visitors' batting has become almost synonymous with collapse in recent times, but their approach in Pallekele was untouched by the impetuosity that has often been their downfall.
Rob Nicol began with uncharacteristic caution, resisting the urge to counter-attack during a fearsome Lasith Malinga opening spell, and opting instead to weather it out behind a series of defensive prods - most of which were unsuccessful in their ambitions of making contact with the ball. Still, despite edging past slip on four and almost being run out soon after, Nicol parried panic with patience, and was content to concede the early exchanges to the fast men.
BJ Watling batted at No. 3 as a stop-gap for Brendon McCullum, who sat out with back stiffness, and proceeded with as much caution as Nicol, unflustered by a run rate that was well below three at his arrival. Sri Lanka's bowlers were not darting the ball about as viciously as they had done in the Twenty20 on Tuesday, but New Zealand were not tempted to take them on. In the first 15 overs of their partnership, Nicol and Watling hit only five fours between them, defended well and often, and made most of their runs in risk-free singles. Their 83-run stand for the second wicket provided the middle order with the kind of platform they have not often been afforded.
When Ross Taylor arrived at the crease, the top order had blunted the worst of the movement, and he was clear to capitalise on their defence with a belligerent innings that exploited the stricter rules on field placings. Mahela Jayawardene used his extra man in the circle as a catcher for much of the innings, and was rewarded with the wicket of Watling who was caught at short midwicket, but he rarely placed more than one deep fielder square on either side, opting instead to give his bowlers cover at third man and down the ground. This meant Taylor could target the square boundaries with little fear. Sixty of his 72 runs came square of the wicket, including all but one of seven fours, and both sixes.
With the two new balls ensuring swing bowlers remain a threat for longer in the innings, and fewer fielders outside the circle during the middle overs, New Zealand have seemingly deduced that the new laws have tilted the game towards top order conservatism, particularly on a seaming pitch. If strokemakers can remain at the crease until the new balls have lost their venom, slow starts can quickly become rapid progress towards large totals.
"250 was above par," New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said afterwards. "It is the highest score New Zealand have got against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, and I think a par score would have been 230 or 240. BJ Watling and Rob Nicol played really nicely for us after losing a wicket early, and with the ball swinging for about 20 to 23 overs, they hung in there really well and set the game up for us."
Sri Lanka's innings was more evenly paced, as they stayed around 5 runs an over throughout, perhaps faced with less testing new-ball bowling - though they did also lose more wickets. With Jayawardene batting beautifully at 42 from 46 balls, and a revised target meaning only 96 were needed from 20.1 overs, the hosts deserved a victory more than New Zealand did when the rains came, but the result was far from a certain had match had been allowed to continue.
"Sri Lanka are pretty top heavy. We got rid of two out of three of their big guns in the first 20 overs so we were pretty confident we were going to have a good crack at it," Hesson said.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka