New Zealand and Sri Lanka have held their Pallekele audience spellbound in the World T20 with a tie after 20 overs before the hosts won in the super over.
The opening act by New Zealand combined committed fielding, bowling poise at the death, particularly from James Franklin, and Rob Nicol's best innings in a T20 international shirt. It wasn't enough.
Sri Lanka demonstrated their class to win the subsequent One1 match by five runs. New Zealand conceded 13 and Tillakaratne Dilshan's catch of Martin Guptill, taken centimetres inside the long off boundary rope, sealed the game in 'the chase'. T20 cricket was showcased perfectly.
It leaves New Zealand almost certainly needing wins over their next two opponents England and the West Indies to qualify for the semi-finals.
Creating the later drama was Tim Southee's final delivery in the earlier T20 contest. It resulted in the run out of Lahiru Thirimanne. Franklin threw to Ross Taylor who fumbled but the ball managed to dislodge a bail, according to television umpire Steve Davis. New Zealand finished on 174 for seven and Sri Lanka 174 for six.
Surreal scenes enveloped the ground. The crowd did not know whether to cheer or commiserate. While a decision was made, the players shook hands, the army marched onto the field and the groundstaff scrambled to prepare the pitch for the following match in the double header between England and the West Indies.
The best example of the ebb and flow was the 19th over bowled by Franklin. It read 6, Dilshan run out 76, 1, 1, 4, Thisara Perera bowled.
Finding the right line and length against Sri Lanka's batsmen in the power play was like trying to land the ball on a 10 rupee coin for New Zealand's bowlers.
Openers Mahela Jayawardene and Dilshan feasted on the opening six overs, taking 68 runs compared to New Zealand's 43.
New Zealand's bowlers faced a dilemma. Overpitch and get driven; go for the yorker and get worked away with ease; offer width and get slashed square; or achieve a good length and get dispatched over the inner circle of fielders.
Captain Taylor must have dreamed of creating new fielding positions like 'mighty' long leg or 'super' extra cover.
Fours and sixes rained into a raucous crowd protected by the thin veil of sun umbrellas or woolly Lasith Malinga wigs. The openers also worked with subtle angles you'd have to squint to find on a protractor. They put on 80 for the first wicket.
They looked to have taken the game from New Zealand but devoted fielding and Franklin's two wickets for 34 runs drew them back.
Nicol's 58 runs represented his highest T20 international score. When he was caught, New Zealand were 137 for three in the 16th over. Sri Lanka's bowling stymied the damage in the last four overs which went for just 33.
Nicol was supported by Martin Guptill (38 off 30 balls) and Brendon McCullum (25 off 16). The first six only came at the end of the ninth over but they scored fours regularly and scampered between wickets.
The trio helped dismiss the myth that spinner Ajantha Mendis is unplayable after his T20I best of six wickets for eight runs against Zimbabwe earlier in the tournament. Mendis' may have been slightly out of sorts - it's understood he was given an injection before the start of play to ease the pain of a left side strain - but his carrom ball was neutralised.
New Zealand even took his last over for 24 runs, including three sixes to Nicol. The destruction left Mendis with figures of one for 48.
Sri Lanka also suffered through errant fielding. They dropped catches, missed balls that subsequently crossed the boundary rope, hashed run out chances and gave away overthrows. Guptill was dropped on six by Thisara Perera in the third over while Akila Dananjaya took the first ball of the 12th over on the left cheekbone. Nicol pierced the reverse cupping of the debutant's fingers. Non-striker McCullum deserved credit for rushing to the 18-year-old's aid.
Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com/nz).