Thrilling opener kick-starts tournament
Nothing sets a tournament up better than a tight finish. Last year in England the World Twenty20 was sparked into life by Netherlands' shock last-ball victory against the hosts and while New Zealand's success over Sri Lanka at Providence can't even be ranked as an upset it launched this latest event in suitably thrilling style.
The match itself was a slow-burner on another sluggish pitch, but it always had the makings of a tight contest. It involved many changes of momentum, as the best Twenty20 matches always do, and nothing better encapsulated the shifts than the closing stages of New Zealand's run chase.
When Jacob Oram walked to the crease it was Sri Lanka's game. Then Oram hit consecutive sixes off Ajantha Mendis, but to the first ball of the penultimate over he missed a wild heave at Chanaka Welegedara to leave the stumps splattered. At the non-striker's end Daniel Vettori thumped his bat in frustration, but New Zealand had more left to give as Vettori found a crucial boundary and it came down to 10 off the last over.
If any bowler in the world could defend that it would be Lasith Malinga - this, remember, was the ground where he took four wickets in four balls against South Africa during the 2007 World Cup - but this wasn't a game for the two fastest operators on show. Shane Bond had been New Zealand's most expensive bowler and Malinga lost the accuracy off his normally pinpoint yorkers as Nathan McCullum flicked a boundary to deep square-leg then launched him over long off to seal the victory.
"We made it a bit harder than we should have," Vettori admitted. "Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptil were fantastic but we probably lost our way in the middle stages by not being aggressive enough and trying to take some risks.
"You always think you can chase that down, but then Malinga is on there and he's very good at the death. He normally never misses and it was always going to be tough. Fortunately those two sixes by Jacob Oram and Nathan's little cameo really got us through."
As Trevor Bayliss, the Sri Lanka coach, said there is no way Malinga should be blamed for the defeat but when a bowler of his speed is slightly off target it gives the batsmen vital extra pace to work with on a slow surface such as this. Still, you wouldn't have put it past him to still secure the game for Sri Lanka when it came down to three from two balls following Vettori's sacrificial run out.
However McCullum - and not the one who normally launches sixes for New Zealand - knew the ball would be full and when it was a touch short of yorker length he freed his arms, clearing the boundary and let out something close to a primeval roar.
I've been there a couple of times and a couple of times I've been on the other end of it," McCullum said. "It's good to finally get one to go the other way."
And although he knew what to expect from Malinga, playing it was another matter entirely. "He's very good at that and doesn't often miss but luckily he missed one today and we were able to get it away, but he's pretty good at what he does," McCullum added.
The match supported the predictions that this won't be a ground for huge scores; both because of the surface and the large boundaries, but that doesn't have to preclude compelling contests. What it does require is a slight adjustment in expectations, both from the players and supporters who have become attuned to Twenty20 being a boundary blitz. Sixes will be at a premium here, which is never a bad thing especially after six weeks of "DLF maximums."
"I think we can cope with all conditions but the important thing is this is a really good sized ground which brings the bowlers a lot more into play," Vettori said. "It allows myself and Nathan to be a bit more attacking. I really enjoy playing here, the nature of the wicket suits us but I hope we can adapt to anything."
The result leaves Sri Lanka, one of the pre-tournament favourites, facing a must-win match against Zimbabwe. The second game in this group is no longer a freebie after Zimbabwe's impressive warm-up form with victories against Australia and Pakistan, but New Zealand are in a much more comfortable position.
"It's pretty big [this win] because otherwise the last game becomes do or die," Vettori said. "Zimbabwe have shown their hand by beating Australia in the first warm-up game so are obviously competitive in this format and we can now go in knowing what we have to do. It's a good feeling in the camp, although we know it's still an important game." undefined
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo