New Zealand put a small part of their tour blues behind them by clinching a thrilling three-run win over Sri Lanka in the first of two Twenty20s at the R Premadasa Stadium. The coloured clothing was out and with it a fresh look to New Zealand's Twenty20 unit, but it was Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram, with a hat-trick, who ultimately gave the tourists something to smile about.
With the openers dismissed early, the pressure was on Taylor, who carried the team almost single-handedly with a busy innings until the 18th over after which, Lasith Malinga returned to stifle the tail. A total of 141 appeared under-par when Tillakaratne Dilshan blazed to 57 off 28 balls, but Vettori reminded everyone of his worth in Twenty20s with a niggardly spell and, aided by some dedicated fielding, New Zealand hauled themselves back in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
Dilshan's assault on Shane Bond in the first over had the crowd in raptures, and New Zealand almost cowering. What was touted to be a seminal moment in New Zealand's bid for a comeback was smashed in four deliveries as Dilshan welcomed Bond back to international cricket with disdain. After bouncing Dilshan first ball, Bond was slapped for four consecutive fours.
It didn't look good for New Zealand when Dilshan unfurled his patent scoop to Kyle Mills' second delivery and got four, but there was a moment of relief when Sanath Jayasuriya top-edged to Bond at fine leg three balls later. Bond's second over only cost four, but Dilshan resumed against Mills in the fourth over, pulling and lofting sixes.
Then New Zealand launched a stirring comeback. Jesse Ryder's direct hit got rid of Mahela Jayawardene, after which Vettori got Kumar Sangakkara in his first over. Ian Butler struck in successive overs as Ryder cupped an excellent catch at backward point to cut off Dilshan and Chamara Kapugedera missed an ugly slog. At this stage Sri Lanka were 85 for 5 with 57 needed from 60 balls.
Angelo Mathews took fours off Jacob Oram, but the pressure built up by Vettori was excruciating. Having given three runs in his first over, Vettori wheeled away off an nagging line and conceded five in his second and, crucially, just a single in his third. The debutant Gihan Rupasinghe found Vettori tough to score off and, backed by some alert close-in fielding, was frustrated into sweeping and missing. With his final delivery, Vettori trapped Rupasinghe lbw for 15 off 21 balls to finish with figures of 4-0-11-2.
With 20 needed off 19, Mathews popped a return catch to Oram. Suddenly New Zealand, who till now had been athletic in the field, started diving over the ball and failing to back-up errant throws. Scampered single and doubles kept Sri Lanka ticking. With 13 to defend off 12, Vettori called back Bond. It was a wicketless return for Bond, but four singles in the final over sure beat four fours. Two wickets in the first two balls of the final over - that gave Oram his hat-trick - left Sri Lanka's last pair too much to do.
New Zealand's bid to gain momentum after last week's Test series defeat looked like it had hit a potential roadblock as they were kept to 141. Brendon McCullum appeared in the mood to get back into form, slashing a wide delivery from Malinga over point, but the combination of Ryder's straight drive and Nuwan Kulasekara's fingertips cut short his nine-ball innings. Ryder couldn't lift the tempo in a lovely second over from Malinga, full of crafty changes of pace, and with Kulasekara cutting down the boundary options, he gave himself room and lofted a catch into the hands of Malinga Bandara running back from mid-off.
Taylor and Martin Guptill were left to consolidate matters, and when Sangakkara called on Mathews, Taylor weighed in with consecutive boundaries, slashing past point and driving wide of cover. Another fortuitous deflection followed off Ajantha Mendis, when Guptill drove and edged past slip. New Zealand took 38 off the Powerplay overs.
Taylor's entertaining 60, including five fours and a six, went well with the festive atmosphere at the ground but he lacked support. Guptill, who was dropped by Mathews in the deep off Jayasuriya, launched Bandara for a straight six but miscued the next delivery to deep midwicket for 29. Jayasuriya's left-arm spin was to Taylor's liking and he slog-swept for four and six in successive deliveries in the 15th over.
Oram looked as if he was at the wrong party before he fell for 8 off 13 deliveries, holing out to Kulasekara at mid-off in Mendis' final over. Trying to get some momentum going, Taylor fell in Mathews' next over, giving Kulasekara another catch in the deep. Mathews returned a flat throw to help run out Peter McGlashan and Malinga returned to york Kyle Mills and Vettori with consecutive deliveries in the 20th over.
But Malinga and Dilshan's efforts were not enough to deny a New Zealand side piloted to victory by three of their established stars.