Sri Lanka has to win the second and last Twenty20 International against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday (January 10) to not only level the series, but also ensure that it holds on to the No.1 ranking in the format, failing which it will slip to third behind West Indies and Australia.
That Sri Lanka lost the first game was largely because of a superb bowling display by Matt Henry and Trent Boult, both of whom picked up three wickets each.
Chasing 183, Sri Lanka needed 35 runs in the last four overs with four wickets in hand. Milinda Siriwardana was hitting the ball well and had raced off to 42 in 29 balls. That is when Kane Williamson, the stand-in captain, brought back Boult, who had dismissed Tillakaratne Dilshan and Shehan Jayasuriya in the first two overs, for his third spell.
Boult produced a well-crafted over filled with slower deliveries and accounted for Siriwardana to finish with 3 for 21.
Kapugedera and Nuwan Kulasekara kept the game alive and the equation boiled down to Sri Lanka needing 13 runs off the final over. But, Grant Elliott, in his first international game since August 2015, kept things tight, Kulasekara was caught off a slower ball at deep midwicket and Kapugedara was run out in the fourth ball, as Sri Lanka went down by three runs.
Boult was the Man of the Match, but the victory had been set up by Martin Guptill and Williamson. Both the openers hit fifties and put on 101 runs in 10.5 overs before Colin Munro and Ross Taylor provided the finishing act to the innings.
While winning the series and keeping the momentum alive for the upcoming assignment against Pakistan would be high on New Zealand’s agenda, getting the team composition right for the World Twenty20 in India would not be far from the team management’s plan.
To that end, Mike Hesson, the coach, has said Ross Taylor could be promoted to No.3 to fill the gap created by the absence of Brendon McCullum, who will retire before the multination event.
Taylor has so far batted 12 times at No. 3 in his 65-match career, the last appearance there having come against Bangladesh in November 2013. So far he averages 18 at that slot, and New Zealand has just a few games in its hand to see if Taylor is comfortable with his new role or not.
While Taylor has the cushion of an in-form Guptill and Williamson, Sri Lanka would want the entire top order to come good as early as this game so that it can end the tour, where it has already lost the Test and One-Day International series, on a high and keep its pride as the No.1 T20I side intact.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dinesh Chandimal (capt, wk), Angelo Mathews, Milinda Siriwardene, Chamara Kapugedera, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Dushmantha Chameera, Jeffrey Vandersay, Isuru Udana. Kithruwan Vithanage, Shehan Jayasuriya.