Having been beaten soundly in the Test series, New Zealand now head into the tri-series brimming with confidence after a second consecutive 20-over victory over Sri Lanka, this time by 22 runs. Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder's clinical hitting and Nathan McCullum's teasing offspin were responsible for driving New Zealand to victory and handing Sri Lanka their fourth Twenty20 loss in a row.
Brendon McCullum and Ryder were badly out of form during the Test campaign, but showed both courage and muscle during an 84-run opening stand in 62 deliveries, while Nathan McCullum gave further proof that New Zealand's limited-overs recruits have helped shape a change in fortunes. When Sri Lanka quickly slumped to 11 for 3 this game looked almost over as a contest, but Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara still had a sting to inflict, adding 67 in 43 balls. Then came the fatal blow in the 11th over, bowled by Nathan McCullum, as Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews departed to clever changes of pace. Thereafter, Sri Lanka were never in the hunt.
There were to be no fireworks this evening from Tillakaratne Dilshan, who flicked straight to deep square leg in the first over, giving Shane Bond his first international wicket since 2007. In walked Mahela Udawatte at No. 3, the one change Sri Lanka made, and back out he went after he checked his first ball from Kyle Mills and gave point a dolly. Sri Lanka's chances dimmed when Mills got Sanath Jayasuriya to miscue to midwicket in the fourth over.
Mills' third over wasn't as productive, as Jayawardene put away two full tosses and a half-volley on the pads. After the Powerplay overs Sri Lanka were 37 for 3, compared to 64 for 2 on Wednesday. Then Jayawardene and Sangakkara stepped on the gas, rattling up a 50-run stand in 6 overs. Where Jayawardene improvised to dab the ball past Brendon McCullum behind the stumps, walk across and paddle, and pull six over fine leg, all off Ian Butler, Sangakkara used his feet to come out and bisect midwicket and square leg.
By now the crowd had roared back to life and New Zealand appeared worried, but in one over the mood changed dramatically. Daniel Vettori called on Nathan McCullum, who came in for this game in place of Peter McGlashan, and within four balls he snapped Sri Lanka's spine. Jayawardene's top edge was well held by Ryder at short fine leg, and then Angelo Mathews chipped softly to midwicket. Vettori knew taking the pace off would work, and that was a sensational over from Nathan McCullum.
Nathan McCullum put down a very tough caught-and-bowled chance off Sangakkara, who reached his half-century off 40 balls. Sangakkara kept flaying but his luck ran out on 69 when he top-edged back to Oram. Bond completed the dénouement with 3 for 18.
It was only a matter of time before Brendon McCullum and Ryder found their groove in coloured clothing. Brendon McCullum got off the mark with a cramped chop to third man, but there was nothing restrained about strokes that raced to the boundaries at backward point, square leg and midwicket. Against Nuwan Kulasekara he began by pulling off his own version of the scoop trademarked by Dilshan, with some help from his helmet, getting way across and scooping the ball from outside off stump, on to Sangakkara's helmet, for four.
Lasith Malinga's second over cost 19. First Brendon McCullum steered a couple to third man by getting outside leg stump, then backed away and carved six over backward point, put a no-ball away for four with power past two off-side fielders, and finished off by slapping three through cover.
Ryder had been content allowing his partner take charge, ticking along to 10 by the time Brendon McCullum was 35. Ajantha Mendis came on for one over, the sixth, and allowed just three but Malinga Bandara was given a rude welcome by Ryder, who got down and swatted six over midwicket. He nonchalantly paddled Jayasuriya for four and Brendon McCullum slammed Dilshan for a six, his 100th boundary shot in this format.
With New Zealand's run rate 8.30, Jayasuriya struck when Brendon McCullum knocked back a return catch for 49. Ryder accelerated his game efficiently, repeating the slogged six twice off Dilshan in a 20-run 12th over in which he raised his fifty off 31 balls. Then Mendis returned to bowl the next over and immediately had Ryder beaten in the flight and popping an easy catch to extra cover.
Jayasuriya, after a break and a change of ends, came back to dismiss Ross Taylor playing across the line for 16. Martin Guptill, demoted to No. 4, jacked the run-rate back with six and a four in Kulasekara's comeback over, the 17th, which cost 17. Malinga bowled a seven-run final over in which he yorked Guptill for 32, but by getting 87 in the last ten overs New Zealand had done well.
So well, in fact, that victory was all too easy.