New Zealand 165 for 6 (de Grandhomme 59, Bruce 53, Akila 3-36) beat Sri Lanka 161 for 9 (Dickwella 39, Avishka 37, Rance 3-33, Southee 2-18, Kuggeleijn 2-38) by four wickets
For the second time in succession, a substantial fourth-wicket stand swung a run-chase decidedly in New Zealand’s favour in their T20I series in Sri Lanka. Despite a drama-filled final over, in which two wickets fell, and a third should have had two fielders not collided at wide long-on, fifties from Colin de Grandhomme and Tom Bruce proved sufficient to propel the visitors to victory with two balls and four wickets to spare. New Zealand thus sealed the series, despite not having had the services of their two most prolific T20 batsmen – Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor – for this innings.
The chase, which had several similarities with Sunday’s performance, was calculated. Once again, Sri Lanka took three early wickets – Akila Dananjaya striking three times in the space of seven balls. But then de Grandhomme and Bruce came together, and the pair calmly set about building a partnership, picking up the singles and twos on offer first, before taking aim at the boundary only later in their association. Like on Sunday, Sri Lanka should have had New Zealand’s eventual top-scorer dismissed for 36, but substitute fielder Lahiru Madushanka slipped beneath the high chance off de Grandhomme’s bat, and could not even get a hand to the ball. He would go on to make 59 off 46, Bruce would be out in the last over for 53 off 46, and it was their 109-run stand off 88 balls – a record for New Zealand against Sri Lanka – that formed the spine of the innings.
Sri Lanka had not bowled particularly well – Lasith Malinga in particular conceded 39 runs in four wicketless overs – but still had one final chance of sneaking a victory, when legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga ran Bruce out first ball of the final over, and then had Daryl Mitchell caught at long-on next ball. New Zealand still needed seven from the last four deliveries, and should then have lost Mitchell Santner to make it three successive wickets. But Shehan Jayasuriya, who took an outstanding running catch at wide long-on, was tripped up in his stride by an oncoming Kusal Mendis, and was sent crashing into the boundary. Both fielders might have sustained substantial injuries, taking several minutes to get up. What was worse was that a ball that should have provided a dismissal had now conceded a six – Jayasuriya unable to jettison the ball in time.
Earlier, Guptill had to go off the field with a sharp pain in his abdomen, and was unavailable to bat. Taylor had been ruled out of this game with a hip injury sustained during practice.
New Zealand had to shuffle their top order to make up for Guptill’s absence, sending Tim Seifert in to open, and promoting Scott Kuggeleijn to a pinch-hitting No. 3. But Akila quickly sewed up the top three, having Colin Munro caught at long-on in his first over, before nailing Kuggeleijn and Seifert lbw in his second.
Thanks to some early boundaries, however, de Grandhomme and Bruce had time to play themselves in. Once the Powerplay ended, they respected the spinners, until in the 12th over, against Hasaranga, they decided to hit out again. Two fours and a six from that over set New Zealand back on track with the asking rate. With regular boundaries coming after that, they would not fall behind again. De Grandhomme completed his fifty in the 15th over, and the pair’s century stand came up in the 18th. The batsmen had given their team such a cushion that even those dramatic late wickets could not sufficiently shake the chase.
Sri Lanka’s own innings had been a stuttering effort, in which virtually every batsman who came to the crease appeared to go through a period of struggle. Kusal Mendis did his best to compensate for Kusal Perera’s lack of timing, hitting two memorable leg-side sixes in his 26. Even Mendis could not strike at better than 108, however, and Sri Lanka’s run rate at the end of the Powerplay was only slightly over six. It did improve through the middle period, as Niroshan Dickwella and Avishka Fernando prospered against spin in a third-wicket partnership worth 68 off 44 balls, but after those two batsmen departed – for 39 and 37 respectively – the middle order could not quite provide an explosive innings. Sri Lanka’s 161 for 9 was perhaps 15 runs short.