A classic knock of 79 off 53 balls from Kusal Mendis and tight bowling spells by skipper Lasith Malinga (2/23) and debutant leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga (2/21) failed to stop New Zealand from topping Sri Lanka’s total of 174-4 by reaching 175-5 in 19.3 overs.
Where Sri Lanka lost the contest was in the four overs between 10-13 where they leaked out a princely 61 runs and Isuru Udana dropped Ross Taylor (31) at deep midwicket, which turned out to be a crucial miss in the context of the game.
Lasith Malinga yorks Colin de Grandhomme for 44 to take his 99th wicket and become the highest wicket-taker in T20 internationals.
Taylor along with Colin de Grandhomme figured in a 79-run stand for the fourth wicket off 38 balls after Sri Lanka had reduced New Zealand to 39-3 in eight overs.
De Grandhomme who played a central role in New Zealand’s victory in the second Test at the P Sara Oval by striking 83 off 77 balls, scored 44 off 28 balls inclusive of two sixes and four fours, to put New Zealand back on track.
Taylor who took the Man of the Match award went onto score 48 off 29 balls (3 fours, 2 sixes) and with his dismissal – fifth out at 144 rain interrupted play for a short period and even at that stage New Zealand were ahead by four runs as the par score was 139.
When the game resumed, New Zealand required 31 off 19 balls with five wickets in hand and they had no difficulty in knocking them off through their sixth wicket pair Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner with three balls remaining.
For Sri Lanka who fought tooth and nail to win this contest with a young side should learn from their mistakes. The fact that they failed to defend a total of 174 was mainly due to lapses on the field and finding bowlers to bowl in the middle overs.
The legendary Malinga added another feather to his cap when he became the leading wicket-taker in Twenty20 international cricket with his 99th scalp when he dismissing de Grandhomme with a classical yorker to go past Pakistani Shahid Afridi’s record of 98.
Afridi achieved it playing in 99 matches whereas Malinga was playing in his 74th.
The other plus point for Sri Lanka was the debut of Hasaranga. The 22-year-old leg spinner made a dream ODI debut against Zimbabwe at Galle in 2017 with a hat-trick and yesterday he took a wicket off his second ball in T20I when he had Tim Seifert edging a catch to Kusal Perera on the cut shot.
Mendis came up with an inspirational batting performance striking two sixes and eight fours as he played the stellar role in Sri Lanka’s batting sharing an opening stand of 41 off 27 balls with Kusal Perera (11) and 63 off 42 balls with Niroshan Dickwella (33).
Sri Lanka’s innings was given a late spurt by the two big hitters in the side Dasun Shanaka and Isuru Udana’s last over heroics that saw 15 runs being scored off the last three balls to see them to their final total which in the circumstances they should have defended quite successfully if not for the mistakes made on the field.
The second T20I will take place at the same venue on Tuesday.