New Zealand cricket captain Ross Taylor felt bittersweet after his side's loss to Sri Lanka in their World T20 super over decider in Pallekele last night.
The encounter was the match of the tournament to date, surpassing the tight finish in New Zealand's 13-run loss to Pakistan. It gave the World T20 an injection of vitality after a series of trouncings and washouts in the pool stage.
The crowd revelled in the drama of the final ball run out and consequent super over contest. Yet New Zealand suffered the agony of cricket often being a game of centimetres. Tenacity will be required to overcome England and the West Indies if they are to make the semifinals.
"We practised the super over against Australia, even though we lost our warm-up," Taylor said. "But it's like a penalty shoot out. You can simulate it as much as you like but the pressure involved, like dealing with a full crowd, means you can't genuinely prepare."
New Zealand have been involved in four of the seven tied matches in Twenty20 history. They have won two and lost two of the various playoff formats.
Taylor said it was the right call to use Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill as starting batsmen for the extra six balls, rather than him. Guptill was caught at long off for the second time in the game off the fifth ball.
"We wouldn't be having this conversation if there was only a half metre extra in his shot," Taylor said. "I had no qualms putting him there. That shot nearly got us within a couple of runs of winning the game."
New Zealand eventually fell five short after Sri Lanka posted 13 in their second turn at bat.
Drama ensued getting there. With Sri Lanka needing one run to win, Tim Southee's final delivery in the T20 contest resulted in the run out of Lahiru Thirimanne. Franklin threw to Taylor who fumbled, but the ball managed to dislodge a bail, according to television umpire Steve Davis.
"I only wanted to catch it but it was close to hitting the stumps," Taylor said. "Then I looked up. The bails were off and the boys were thrilled but I thought I must have flicked it with my finger. So I went and shook their [Sri Lanka's] hands. I got upstairs and the coach was saying 'it's out, it's out'. There was a big yell in the crowd so I thought it had been given not out, then I looked on our analyst's computer and realised it was close.
"The ball must have come off my knee but I'll take it. My hands weren't anywhere near it on the replay. I never was much good at football but I'll take the credit," Taylor quipped.
The decision meant New Zealand finished on 174-7 and Sri Lanka 174-6. Before the decision was made, surreal scenes enveloped the ground. 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.
Despite the eventual loss, Taylor reflected on satisfying elements ahead of the match with England on Saturday night.
"A lot of teams wouldn't have come back from our situation [Sri Lanka had scored 68 runs from their six-over power play, outscoring New Zealand by 25 runs]. We never gave up. In fact, we talked about 175 being the par total ... we were one short.
"Tim Southee's death bowling was outstanding. He thrives on it and practices it hard. He's still relatively young in international cricket but he wants to bowl those overs and that's half the battle. James Franklin also helped with a good spell [of 2-34] in a difficult situation.
"I thought they had a bowler-heavy attack with only five specialist batsmen. Once we got their senior guys out, we could put them under more pressure."
Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com/nz).