New Zealand survived a tense period immediately after lunch, during which they nearly threw away their tight grip on the match, to clinch a four-wicket victory in the third one-day international at Christchurch. Sri Lanka, put into bat on an overcast, rain-interrupted morning, paid the price for a woeful batting display as they were bowled out for 112 in just 35.2 overs.
Michael Mason, the Man of the Match, was the chief beneficiary of some loose strokes from the Sri Lankan top order, finishing with 4 for 24 from nine overs. Daniel Vettori, the captain again with Stephen Fleming taking an extra match off, also returned excellent figures - 2 for 7 from 5.2 overs - while Shane Bond, back after his two-match rest, James Franklin and Mark Gillespie all performed well in bowler-friendly conditions.
The pitch was not a minefield, despite being nearly two days under covers, and Sri Lanka will be bitterly disappointed that several key players gifted their wickets with soft dismissals, including Marvan Atapattu (clicked to square leg), Kumar Sangakkara (pulled to midwicket), Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan (both run out).
Vettori had no hesitation in bowling first after winning his third consecutive toss, much to Jayawardene's frustration. The start was then delayed by some light drizzle before Bond broke through with his second delivery of the series, a good quick ball that moved away off the seam, enough to find the outside edge of Sanath Jayasuriya's bat.
Sri Lanka then re-jigged their top order, aware that the conditions demanded a more cautious approach then their preferred style, with Atapattu coming in at No. 3. As it was, he proved the most fluent of the batsmen, hitting five boundaries in his 28 from 26 balls. As he drove gloriously through the covers and clipped past square, Sri Lanka were looking good.
However, Vettori had noticed that Atapattu was slightly off-balance and positioned a backward square just in time as the ball was flicked uppishly. Sangakkara was also in good form, cracking three early boundaries, but then paid the penalty for a poorly-executed pull stroke that gifted Ross Taylor at midwicket the simplest of catches.
Chamara Silva then pushed back a return catch before New Zealand cemented their advantage with some brilliant fielding. Brendon McCullum led the way with a spectacular goalkeeper-style diving catch down the legside off a gloved hook from a becalmed Upul Tharanga. Then, immediately after another rain interruption, Vettori snatched the wicket of Jayawardene with a direct hit.
Dilshan threatened a recovery with a useful 18 from 41 balls, adding 31 for the seventh wicket with Farveez Maharoof (13), before another athletic piece of fielding led to his run out. James Marshall pulled off a brilliant stop and McCullum tidied up a wayward throw expertly. Following that breakthrough the last four wickets fell for 20 runs.
Earlier, Sri Lanka decided to rest their two senior fast bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga, a bold decision considering the conditions and the 1-1 series scoreline. Ruchira Perera, one of the replacements, did grab two quick wickets with the new ball but also proved very expensive as he struggled with his length, conceding 30 runs from just three overs.
Perera bore the brunt of a whirlwind 22 from McCullum that included two magnificent legside sixes. But he also got his revenge as McCullum drove a catch straight to cover-point. Maharoof claimed the first wicket, bowling a leaden-footed Nathan Astle for a duck, while Perera claimed the second - Taylor - thanks to an electric one-handed diving effort in the gully from Dilshan. He was given out without referral to the television umpire despite doubts as to whether the ball had brushed the turf on pick-up.
New Zealand reached the lunch interval on 49 for 3 after just seven overs to leave the match set for an early- afternoon finish. But a few minutes after play resumed, Sri Lanka briefly conjured hopes of a miraculous win as New Zealand lost their way, slipping to 70 for 6. Dilhara Fernando, bowling far better than he did in Napier, bagged two quick wickets and Muttiah Muralitharan had James Marshall caught behind.
However, Peter Fulton, fortunate to survive a strong lbw shout on 20 when hit by a perfect Fernando yorker, held his nerve with an authoritative 57-ball 43 that included two sixes and five fours, including one imperious pull stroke off the front foot. Following on from where he left off in Queenstown, James Franklin provided steady support and New Zealand soon steered themselves out of trouble.