Champions Trophy: New Zealand clinch low-scoring thriller against Sri Lanka
Cardiff: New Zealand pulled off a nail-biting one-wicket victory in a low-scoring Group `A` thriller against Sri Lanka, who very nearly defended a score of 138, in the ICC Champions Trophy here on Sunday.
Chasing a paltry total, New Zealand made heavy weather of their run chase as Sri Lanka put up a tremenduous fight on the back of a fiery spell by paceman Lasith Malinga.
New Zealand were made to sweat for every run scored as they huffed and puffed their way to victory with 13.3 overs to spare at Sophia Gardens.
The track was conducive for seam bowlers as both sides reaped benefits with the likes of Kyle Mills, Shaminda Eranga and Lasith Malinga extracting a lot of movement off the pitch.
Malinga put on display an incisive spell of fast bowling to slice through the opposition batting line-up but could not decisively turn the tide in his team`s favour.
Malinga bowled his heart out to finish with an impressive figures of four for 34 from his 10 overs.
Earlier, New Zealand bowlers stuck to a disciplined line to skittle out Sri Lanka for a paltry 138 inside 38 overs, their fifth-lowest total after choosing to bat first.
Barring former skipper Kumar Sangakkara who stood tall amidst ruins, scoring 68 off 87 balls with eight boundaries, others simply didn`t have any clue against controlled seam bowling by seasoned Kyle Mills (2/14) and young left-arm seamer Mitchell McClenaghan (4/43), who kept cutting partnerships short.
The start for New Zealand was equally disastrous as they lost Luke Ronchi for seven when he was caught by Sangakkara behind the wickets off Eranga.
Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson led the recovery path for the Black Caps with a 34-run stand for the second wicket but Malinga flummoxed the latter with a slower delivery to get him out leg before for 16.
Sri Lanka tightened the noose around New Zealand`s neck and picked up two more crucial wickets to left the New Zealanders reeling at 49 for four after the end of first mandatory powerplay.
In their previous 10 meetings, New Zealand had just managed to beat Sri Lanka only once and that too in the last Champions Trophy four years ago and it seemed the statistics played heavily on the mind of Black Caps.
Ross Taylor departed for nought without troubling the scorers while Guptill, who looked settled at the other end, was sent back for a 24-ball 25 caught at second slip by Mahela Jayawardene who took a sharp overhead catch.
A total which looked like well-within reach suddenly became a mountain to climb for the New Zealanders. Skipper Brendon McCullum curbed his attacking instinct and settled in for occasional one and twos.
The credit for plotting New Zealand`s downfall must go to Sri Lanka`s younger skipper Angelo Mathews who imaginatively rotated his pace and spin bowlers.
Mathews introduced Tillakaratne Dilshan into the attack and the move paid immediate dividends as he got James Franklin out on a flatter delivery for six.
New Zealand sunk further when Malinga sent back comeback-man Daniel Vettori for five in his second spell.
At 80 for six and 59 required with four wickets in hand, it looked like as if Sri Lanka would snatch an unlikely victory from the jaws of defeat but the McCullum duo of Brendon and Nathan forged a crucial 35-run partnership for the seventh wicket in exactly 10 overs to keep their side afloat.
Malinga was brought back into the attack for his third spell to break the partnership and the slinger immediately provided his team with the breakthrough when he castled the timbers of Brendon (18) with his trademark slow yorker.
Malinga then trapped dangerous-looking Nathan leg before with an inswinging yorker in his next over to put his side in the driver`s seat. Nathan scored a fighting 42-ball 32 with the help of three fours.
With two wickets remaining and 16 needed, it could be anybody`s game but Tim Southee (13 not out) ensured that script does not change for the Black Caps.
Electing to bat, Sri Lanka were bundled out for 138, courtesy Mills and McClenaghan, who kept cutting partnerships short.
Spinners Daniel Vettori (1/16), who took a wicket in his first ODI over since the 2011 World Cup, and offie Nathan McCullum (2/23) also complemented the pacers well as Sri Lanka lost wickets at regular intervals.
Such was the dismal show of the batsmen that as many as eight out of 11 failed to reach double figures.
As Sangakkara waged a lone battle, he never had anyone who was able to stay long enough to put up a semblance of fight.
It was skipper Brendon`s inspirational catch in the slips off the very first delivery of the match that set the tone. Kusal Perera (0) flashed hard at an outgoing delivery from Mills as McCullum pulled off a stunner in the slip cordon.
Dilshan (20) hit a few boundaries before he was cleaned up by McClenaghan with a fuller delivery.
Their miseries compounded when Jayawardene (4) padded an arm ball from Vettori, while talented Dinesh Chandimal (0) got an inside edge off Mills.
At 34 for four, Mathews (9) joined Sangakkara and the duo added 31 runs before the shipper shuffled a wee bit too much to lose his leg-stump off McClenaghan.
The other notable partnership was between Sangakkara and Thisara Perera (15) for seventh wicket that yielded 36 runs.
Sangakkara hit some exquisite shots as he completed his 50 off 70 balls with five boundaries. He was the eighth batsmen to get out as he tried to hit McCullum against turn as he offered a simple catch to Kane Williamson at short third man.
It had taken New Zealand such little time to dismiss Sri Lanka they were to bat for 25 minutes before lunch.