"The party's on Jesse Ryder tonight, that's for sure!" bellowed Tony Greig into the Colombo night as an expressionless Ryder left the dais with the Man-of-the-Match and Man-of-the-Series awards. It was a significant moment: Ryder walking back towards his cheering and clapping New Zealand team-mates, shoulders drooped, unfazed by defeat or victory. His contributions, after being a phantom through the two Tests, had played a big part in putting the smiles back on New Zealand faces.
He backed up a decent score and two sensational pieces of fielding on Wednesday, with a brutal 52 and another catch tonight. Such moments and contributions were what it took, along with a few personnel and wardrobe changes, to inject life into what had been, until two evenings ago, a lacklustre time in Sri Lanka for the visitors. "Yeah, it was good to hit a few off the middle," Ryder said after the match. "I've struggled a bit since I got here, so it was good. Baz [Brendon McCullum] got the team off to a good start, and our bowlers backed it up after that."
New Zealand were in control from the outset, with Ryder and Brendon McCullum launching a high-spirited and overdue partnership at the top of the order - New Zealand's second-highest in Twenty20s. Impressively, their new-ball pair also played their part, and Nathan McCullum's under-rated offspin cut short Mahela Jayawardene on 41 and Angelo Mathews for 1, all in a killer 11th over. After being reduced to 11 for 3, including the first-over dismissal of their standout Twenty20 batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka were always up against the odds.
Daniel Vettori termed the series win as incredibly satisfying and paid tribute to the start provided by the openers, who returned to form in style. "It started from the partnership of [Brendon] McCullum and Ryder - it's so important in this format of the game that your openers or top three get you off to a great start, and I couldn't really ask for too much more from those two," he said. "Bowling is a lot easier when you have 170 on the board, but you still have to back that up and I thought the guys did that brilliantly."
Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara briefly threatened to make a fist of things during a 67-run stand in 43 balls, with Ian Butler bearing the brunt. The two veterans played with immense confidence; Jayawardene was particularly innovative, illustrated by a padde-pulled six between fine leg and deep-backward square leg off Butler. That stand resuscitated Sri Lanka's hopes of chasing down 171 but it wasn't to be.
Vettori introduced Nathan McCullum in the 11th over, and the offspinner struck twice during it. Nathan McCullum, elder brother of Brendon, has been a steady bowler in Twenty20s and his figures of 2 for 18 tonight took his bowling average to 15.62 after ten matches. He presented further credentials as a clever bowler and thinker, varying his pace in the first over, dismissing Mathews with a ball that dipped and beat the batsman in flight. "Nathan McCullum took that advantage away from Sri Lanka, and we probably cruised from there on," Vettori said. "Whenever we've given him a chance he's impressed. He was probably our best bowler at the World Twenty20 and he made a difference here too. It's good to have players like that."
Another player Vettori was pleased to have was Shane Bond, who took three wickets, the first of which was retribution for a hammering in his first over on international return two days ago. Bond took out Dilshan in his first over this time and nipped out two at the end. "Our death bowling was particularly impressive and Shane showed how he's coming along," Vettori said. "He's only had one bad over out of seven. The way he's handled himself, I think he's only going to get better and better. He was very impressive at the death. "
With the 50-over contest four days away, New Zealand are bristling with confidence. It would be a mistake to brush off their 2-0 series win as an irrelevance before the tri-series, also featuring India, on Tuesday and the Champions Trophy later this month. This achievement may have well set the tone for things to come. Sri Lanka, especially, should dismiss this loss at their own peril.
Sangakkara said his team will have to fight to regain lost momentum after they were defeated in both Twenty20 contests. "We gave them too many runs in the field, and it was not the greatest of starts," he said. "Apart from that we gave it our all, I have to say they outplayed us. There are a lot of things to work on going into the one-day series. Our bowling has been very good in the recent past, but they had one off-day today. Our batting unit needs to start firing."