New Zealand 179 for 7 (Bracewell 44, Kuggeleijn 35*, Rajitha 3-44) beat Sri Lanka 144 (Perera 43, Ferguson 3-21, Sodhi 3-30) by 35 runs
Twice New Zealand fought back, fearlessly punching their way out of trouble. In their own innings, they had surrendered four wickets in the first four overs, and had slipped to 55 for 5, before Ross Taylor arrested the nosedive with a calm 33, and Doug Bracewell and debutant Scott Kuggeleijn - both in the team primarily for their bowling - bashed 44 off 26 and 35 not out off 15 respectively, hitting nine sixes between them, to hoist New Zealand to a competitive 179 for 7.
Then, with the ball, Sri Lanka had been coasting at 118 for 4, before a searing double-wicket over from Lockie Ferguson precipitated a dramatic collapse. Six wickets fell for 26 runs, Sri Lanka's lower order incapable of the kinds of heroics New Zealand's had earlier produced, as they faltered against the spinners, Ish Sodhi in particular.
The 35-run defeat means Sri Lanka leave their five-and-a-half week tour of New Zealand winless, their only half-decent result being the drawn Test in Wellington. They were completely blown away in the limited-overs series. Despite dominating this T20I for much of its duration, they allowed a spirited opposition to make definitive advances at the back end of each innings, which wiped out all the good work Sri Lanka had earlier done.
It was Ferguson's third over - the 13th of the innings - that was the most eye-catching. The two wicket-balls were glorious. The first was a 126 kph slower one, pitched back of a length, which Sri Lanka's best batsman of the limited-overs series - Thisara Perera - swung at too early, and wound up only hitting as far as long-on, where Bracewell took a comfortable catch. Four balls later: perhaps the delivery of the match, a 147kph angled yorker that tailed a touch, and snuck between Dhananjaya de Silva's bat and pad to rattle the stumps.
Sodhi and Mitchell Santner - playing his first international match since March - then took the opposition lower order by the collar. Sodhi trapped Sri Lanka's last recognised batsman Dasun Shanaka in front of the stumps with a beautifully flighted legbreak, the on-field not-out decision overturned upon review. Next over, Lasith Malinga swiped at a Santner delivery, and sent a top edge into the legside that was happily gobbled up by Martin Guptill.
The required rate having risen again, Sri Lanka's tail kept swinging hard, as Sodhi wiped out the last couple of wickets in his final over to finish with figures of 3 for 30. Fittingly, Ferguson finished with the best analysis in the game, his three overs yielding 3 for 21.
That New Zealand had anywhere near as much to bowl at, however, was down to Bracewell's outstanding hitting from No. 7. Having arrived the run rate flagging at less than six, and with half the team already out after ten overs, Bracewell was circumspect early, making only 3 off his first seven deliveries, before he began to bludgeon balls into the stands. He ran at Lakshan Sandan to sock him over long-on, lifted Lahiru Kumara over fine leg next over, but saved his most brutal hitting for the 17th over, bowled by Thisara. He hit two successive straight sixes, another one over fine leg, and finished with a four through square leg, as New Zealand reaped 23 from those six balls.
Bracewell soon holed out, mis-hitting a Kasun Rajitha slower ball down the ground, for Dhananjaya de Silva to sprint around from long off to complete an excellent diving catch in front of the sightscreen. Kuggeleijn, though, continued the assault in an even more frenzied fashion than Bracewell. He whacked Rajitha over the short straight boundary and then over square leg off successive balls, then hit another six off the final ball of the innings, depositing Rajitha over long-on that time.
Sri Lanka's bowling attack was poor at the death, serving up predictable, hittable lengths to the tail - Malinga the only bowler to avoid punishment, conceding only six runs from the 19th over.
Rajitha and Malinga had been excellent with the new ball, however, finding a little movement off the seam to induce a series of leading edges from the New Zealand top order. They will wonder how they let it slip from such an outstanding position.