Latham, Ronchi power incredible NZ chase
New Zealand 203 for 6 (Latham 86, Ronchi 49) beat Sri Lanka 138 for 1 (Sangakkara 71*, Dilshan 55*) by four wickets (D/L method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Before this match, 21-year-old Tom Latham had boasted that even this depleted New Zealand side backed themselves to chase tall scores against Sri Lanka. Striking a scintillating career-best 86 off 68 deliveries, Latham proved that threat was not just bluster, as he carried the visitors most of the distance of their 8.6-an-over, rain-shortened chase before an ebullient Nathan McCullum pulled the match from the brink again, plundering the required 20 off the final over to propel New Zealand beyond the target of 198 off the last ball. Along the way, Luke Ronchi hit his best score for New Zealand, making 49 in the belligerent 93-run partnership with Latham that resurrected the innings, after four wickets had fallen early.
The match had earlier been interrupted for five-and-a-half hours by rain and lightning, as Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan progressed effortlessly to a 126-run unbroken second-wicket stand. But, despite reaching a fine total, and a brilliant opening burst from Nuwan Kulasekara, Sri Lanka's bowlers could not contend with a wet ball or the battling opposition batsmen.
The chase took two major twists in the final overs, as Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, gambled bravely but lost out backing Rangana Herath to hold his nerve. Latham and Ronchi had smote 69 between the 15th and 19th overs and had brought the required figure to a manageable 41 from four overs, sparking Mathews' risky play. His two ace bowlers, Lasith Malinga and Kulasekara, had three overs left to bowl between them, and he called for them immediately, tasting great success at first. Malinga's fourth over - the 20th of the match - cost only four, before Kulasekara removed both Latham and Ronchi in the 21st, seemingly swinging the match definitively in Sri Lanka's favour.
But Mathews did not bank on McCullum hitting out so cleanly. With 24 needed off the last seven balls, he smashed Malinga back over his head to bring the equation to 20 off the last over. When McCullum came on strike against Herath, New Zealand needed 17 off four deliveries. He backed away to hammer the bowler over the deep cover boundary first up, then beat the field with a similar ball, bringing the target to seven runs from two balls. A second back-away six, this time over long off tied the scores, before a battered Herath delivered a knee-high full toss for McCullum to launch over long on off the last ball. At the end of the match, McCullum had walloped 32 from 9.
Earlier, Latham batted with intensity and purpose from the outset, and even early on, there was no doubting his touch. Kulasekara had earned two wickets at the other end with balls that swerved late in the air, then darted in at occasionally unplayable angles, but when he swung it big into Latham in the fourth over, the batsman strode into a commanding cover drive.
New Zealand were short on the belligerence that would truly have seen them set the chase on course during the mandatory five-over Powerplay, but Latham shifted gears - most notably hitting Tillakaratne Dilshan for three consecutive boundaries in the eighth over - and soon found equally full of self-belief in Ronchi.
The pair found boundaries all around the ground during their five-over dash between the 15th and 19th overs, while Mathews continued to change the field, searching desperately for the right hole to plug. Like a bad game of Whac-A-Mole, though, every time he moved a fielder, the batsmen would contrive a stroke in the newly vacant direction. The disadvantage for Sri Lanka's bowlers was double: the wet ball not only slipped from their hands, the field had become much quicker after the break, thanks to the lubricating layer of rain.
Sri Lanka would feel they could have done little better with the bat, given they only lost one wicket in their innings, as Sangakkara and Dilshan reached their second century stand in as many matches. No ODI pair has made more runs together in the last two years, and following this association, their last five partnerships are worth 542 runs.
Dilshan played and missed a few in the opening overs, but New Zealand could do little to trouble either batsman after that. The pair have now become so accustomed to the cadence of the other's batting, that each seems instinctively aware of when to lionise the strike and when to surrender it. The visitors' attack exerted so little pressure in this match however, perhaps those sorts of decisions didn't even need to be made.
Sangakkara proved once again in superior touch, as he aggressed in the 14 balls Sri Lanka were allotted after the rain break, primarily through his new-fangled lap-scoop over short fine leg. He breezed to an unbeaten 71 from 59 by the innings' close as Dilshan hit 55 not out from 72 balls.
Before the series, Sri Lanka's chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya had suggested New Zealand should not have devalued the series by sending a second-string outfit, but both he and the hosts' management will now be concerned with how to salvage respectability in Dambulla, and they will hope that the rains allow a match there.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here