After a four games on tour without a win, it was a relief for Daniel Vettori to see some smiles on his players' faces. Having won his first toss of what until this evening had been a disappointing tour, Vettori played a stellar role with the ball to help New Zealand sneak a humdinger at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Vettori was typically deadpan at the post-match presentation, but there was an undeniable air of achievement when he looked back at a come-from-behind win. New Zealand's total of 141 looked in severe danger of being overhauled with overs to spare when Tillakaratne Dilshan smacked four fours of the first over, bowled by comeback man Shane Bond, but a series of spectacular fielding efforts, Vettori's guile and Jacob Oram's hat-trick pulled the carpet from under Sri Lanka's feet.
"We had targeted getting into the middle order and managed to get a couple of the good players cheaply. It always gave us a chance but we knew Dilshan's was the big wicket," said Vettori. "Dilshan is playing exceptionally well and when he's in full flight like that it is hard to know where to stop him but fortunately once we did we put in a very complete performance. The way we fought back, I think that's what everyone has wanted to see, and we really showed it."
With a slight smile threatening to creep up on his face, Vettori was happy to concentrate on the events of this evening, including two excellent moments from Jesse Ryder in the field. First he cut off and released the ball at backward point to execute a direct hit that saw off Mahela Jayawardene, and then he plucked a good low catch at backward point to cut Dilshan off on 57. "He's a supreme athlete, but sometimes his physique doesn't give that away," said Vettori of Ryder. "He's one of the more talented guys in the way he moves and he can do pretty much everything in the field. That run-out gave the team a massive lift and he added a great catch. We need guys stepping up like that. I thought Brendon McCullum was outstanding in the field, Ross Taylor gave everything, all the guys put it on the line. There wasn't a lot I could have asked more for."
Dilshan looked like a man with a train to catch, clattering four successive boundaries in Bond's opening over for New Zealand in almost two years. Despite the onslaught, New Zealand dismissed Sanath Jayasuriya and Jayawardene cheaply and that had given Vettori hope. "You just try and stick to your plans. In Twenty20 the run-rate is still high and even though it's accepted that it's not that hard, you get new batsmen in and look to put pressure on them to make it difficult for the tail."
Bond pulled the game back for New Zealand, allowing just 11 off his last three overs, while Oram, after a poor first over, hit back well at the death, taking a wicket with the last ball of 17th over and two in two when he was left to defend nine off the last over. "He [Bond] was fine. I think he just wanted to get on with things," said Vettori. "Every bowler got better and better as their spells continued. I was satisfied with all the bowling. Everybody stepped up to the mark. Jacob had a tough start but the way he bowled that last over was fantastic. Kyle Mills was unlucky. Ian Butler takes wickets when we need them."
But the pick of the lot was Vettori himself. He came on in the seventh over and that went for three runs and yielded Kumar Sangakkara's wicket. It was a clever delivery, with plenty of dip that sucked Sangakkara into a chip to cover. With Ian Butler taking two in two overs, Vettori dried up the runs with lovely variations in pace. Only eight runs came in his next three overs, which also included the wicket of the debutant Gihan Rupasinghe. Those four overs were mesmeric to watch and left Sri Lanka floundering.
The final result left Sangakkara bitter and asking his players to rethink their roles in the team. After getting off to a roaring start, Sri Lanka lost regular wickets and failed to close out the deal - it once again highlighted the frailty oft their middle order. "It's a big deal when we restrict a side to 141 and get one of the best starts we could ask for, only to not capitalise," he said. "All the players have to take a good, hard look at themselves and ask themselves how they're going to take responsibility. It's hard to imagine that we lost this one."