When he lost the toss, Kumar Sangakkara said a team that couldn't overcome the tall order of chasing under the low Dambulla floodlights was not a good team. They were big words all right, but ones his side backed up.
On a helpful pitch, Lasith Malinga was too good, Angelo Mathews canny, and New Zealand were dismissed for 192. After Tillakaratne Dilshan fell early in the chase, Upul Tharanga provided Sangakkara solid support in a partnership that set up the base for a shot at a bonus point. It helps if the captain himself scores a 48 as stylish as it was solid on a tricky pitch. Amid falling wickets, Sri Lanka played positive, innovative cricket, but couldn't make the target inside 40 overs and secure the bonus point.
BJ Watling's half-century on debut, and Nathan McCullum's fighting 36 with the tail, were the bright spots for New Zealand. They will kick themselves for losing three wickets to relatively innocuous bowling from Mathews, when compared with the efforts of Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara. BJ Watling and Ross Taylor overcame a tough examination against seam and swing, but New Zealand lost wickets in pairs thrice to surrender the toss advantage. Watling, who was the seventh New Zealander to score fifty-plus on debut, survived the early seam, but he too was part of one of those braces, pulling a short and wide delivery from outside off, with his weight on the front foot. It was the first ball of Mathews' second spell.
New Zealand's innings began with a no-ball, but in that same over Malinga consumed Martin Guptill through a leading edge. Kulasekara extracted massive seam movement from the other end. The batsmen focused on survival, but Sangakkara suddenly removed Malinga after a spell of 3-1-9-1. With Mathews came a slight release of pressure. In his first two overs he went for three consecutive boundaries, over the on side in the seventh and twice through the off side in the ninth. In his third over, though, Mathews made a smart comeback.
Taylor, who is good at making contact with the ball while moving across the stumps, was slightly slow on this occasion, and was caught plumb in front. As opposed to Kulasekara's deliveries, this one from Mathews wasn't predictable, and came in just enough to be hitting the stumps. Two balls later, Mathews floated a wide half-volley, which Kane Williamson edged because his feet were rooted. The only thing remarkable about that dismissal was the diving catch at first slip from Thilan Samaraweera. Two matches into his career, Williamson is yet to score an international run.
Watling, the other rookie, had support from Scott Styris in a 52-run fourth-wicket stand, but the allrounder edged a sharp offbreak from Rangana Herath. Watling then welcomed Mathews back with that horror shot. New Zealand had gone from 47 for 1 to 47 for 3, and from 99 for 3 to 101 for 5. Malinga came back with two wickets in two balls, a smart slower ball and a superb yorker, to make it 123 for 7.
In true New Zealand fashion, though, the lower order fought along with McCullum to take New Zealand to a potentially fighting total. It was not an easy pitch to bat on, and the bowling wasn't pedestrian either. Once Sangakkara had the pitch measured up, though, it was just one stylish shot after another.
The ball moved around for both Daryl Tuffey and Kyle Mills, but Sangakkara was watchful. He opened up when New Zealand brought on their back-up bowlers. Sangakkara welcomed Tim Southee with a lovely straight chip for four and kept his elbow held high, lest some photographers missed it. He went one better in the next over and played his other two special shots. Andy McKay's first delivery was driven on the up through cover, with Sangakkara down on one knee, the follow through ending at his back. The next ball angled into the pads, and he whipped it, not through midwicket, but square leg. In the 15th over, he played another breathtaking straight drive, and overtook Tharanga, reaching 33 off 39, having been 13 off 24 at one point.
It took a stunning catch from Guptill at short extra cover to end Sangakkara's innings. By then, though, Sri Lanka were on their way. Any chance that New Zealand could have made anything out of that break disappeared when Styris, at slip, dropped a tough offering from Tharanga, on 44.
In the 35th over, with 50 runs required, Sri Lanka called for the Powerplay but lost wickets as they pursued the bonus point. Chamara Kapugedara was held back, just in case things went wrong, and the tailenders were asked to go have fun. Kulasekara came, smote a six, and then got out. Herath came and went in three deliveries. Seven down. With eight runs required off six balls for the bonus point, though, Sri Lanka gave up the adventure and settled for victory with 9.1 overs to spare.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo