Though rain placed a gloomy full stop on a frustrating series, in the 28.3 overs the weather allowed in the final ODI, New Zealand had a glimpse of a pace attack for the future. Sri Lanka batted first for the first time in the series, and unhindered by a slippery ball, New Zealand's quick men tore through the opposition - an experimental line-up though it was - in an effort that seemed likely to earn them a consolation victory. What was most heartening about the visitors' bowling was not the scoreline that it effected, but the diversity of its method - particularly among those who handled the new ball.

Tim Southee has been in the national side since he was 19. At times he has benefited from the selectors' magnanimity, but he has largely earned his place in the side, particularly in limited-overs cricket. There have been periods of inconsistency in Southee's cricket. At times he has become too enamoured with bowling too short or too full, and has had a habit of going looking for swing long after it is apparent there is none to be had, but there have been memorable spells enough among the dross to justify his place.

His strength has always been movement, and he will rarely find a better track to ply his craft on the subcontinent than the Hambantota pitch he has enjoyed in the last two ODIs. He may remember his delivery to remove Dinesh Chandimal as one of the finest he has bowled; angled into the batsman, pitching on middle and leg, before darting maliciously away to leave the batsman tangled and the off stump askew. The away-seamer undid Chandimal, but against the left-handed Lahiru Thirimanne, Southee bowled the one that seams the other way and had him caught behind.

Not so long ago, Southee had developed the annoying tendency of saying too much to a batsman, particularly when he was being played well. Often he would encourage a batsman to keep playing his shots, and unintimidated by a baby-faced 22-year-old, they would continue to play them to great success. In this series, Southee got in the batsman's face only once, when he hit Upul Tharanga with a bouncer in the third ODI. Not only did he take Tharanga's wicket off the next delivery, he has dismissed him in both ODIs since.

Trent Boult opened from the other end, and has had as unlucky a series as he is ever likely to have if he continues to bowl as he has in Sri Lanka. Sharp, and routinely at the batsman, he generates movement in the air and off the pitch into a right-hander in addition to providing a left-arm angle, complementing Southee's strength, which is the away-seamer. He beat the openers often with the swinging full deliveries he specialises in, but showed the variety in his game by catching the Angelo Mathews flat-footed with a bouncer heading for the throat.

Adam Milne meanwhile, relies on prodigious pace to nab his victims. He didn't quite hit the 150kph speeds he is capable of, but he troubled the batsmen all the same. He can hardly hope for a better first scalp than Kumar Sangakkara, and the ball he bowled to dismiss him, which pitched on middle and deviated off the seam with the angle, was a deserving delivery to remove the reigning cricketer of the year. Later in his spell, he had Mahela Jayawardene groping at deliveries hurtling by outside off stump at 140 kph. He will take confidence from having got the better of two of the most accomplished batsmen in the world in his second ODI assignment.

New Zealand know that their most valued triumph in recent years, in the Hobart Test last summer, was powered by a pace attack that was embellished by its variety. Doug Bracewell was the hero of that match, and if you add his hit-the-deck seamers to Southee's swing, Boult's left-arm angle and Milne's tearaway pace, variety seems inevitable for New Zealand's attack in the coming years. Best of all, none of these bowlers have yet hit 24.

They must continue to develop their craft, for their side is desperate for transformation and they have New Zealand's best bowler since Richard Hadlee from whom to learn. The curtain is not long from falling on Chris Martin and Kyle Mills, who spearhead the Test- and limited-overs attacks respectively. The team may be in freefall, but for the moment, at least the future looks bright for a talented pace attack.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka