Cricket: Black Caps sneak by Sri Lanka

By Andrew Alderson in Cardiff

Sri Lanka 138
New Zealand 139-9
New Zealand win by one wicket

A dominant bowling and fielding display plastered just enough over flaky batting to enable New Zealand to win a gripping opening Champions Trophy match by one wicket over Sri Lanka at Cardiff. It wasn't a good day to be a fingernail.

Tim Southee, while unaccustomed to defence, bravely played out a series of Lasith Malinga yorkers in his final over to edge New Zealand to the win. He finished on 13 not out.

Southee had been left at the wicket with No. 11 Mitchell McClenaghan needing five to win after Kyle Mills was run out from a throw aimed at the bowler's end but which hit the stumps at the striker's end in the 35th over. It left him flailing.

Later McClenaghan made his ground running back for two after a ball slipped down the legside from Tillakaratne Dilshan in the 37th. The New Zealand balcony exuded euphoria and relief.

Sri Lanka, boasting an enviable batting line-up including modern greats Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, were subject to relentless attack from the New Zealanders after deciding to bat.

They were dismissed for 138 in 37.5 overs, the lowest total set in eight previous efforts at the ground. The pitch did not look too volatile, other than holding up a fraction but wickets clattered.

New Zealand were even inserted after a 10-minute break, a rarity in ODI cricket but part of the International Cricket Council tournament 'change of innings' rules if a side is dismissed more than half an hour before the scheduled 2pm lunch.

Captain Brendon McCullum played the pivotal role in what was only New Zealand's second victory over Sri Lanka in nine tournament matches dating back to 1998.

McCullum counted the ground as home in his season with Glamorgan in 2006 and that familiarity appeared to help anchor New Zealand's cause.

He has played many more dazzling one-day innings for New Zealand but few will rank higher for grit. His 18 runs came from 49 balls over 86 minutes and included just one boundary before he was yorked by Lasith Malinga. Brother Nathan's 32 (in his 50th match) was a similar triumph in the circumstances. The pair put on 35 runs for the seventh wicket, the key partnership to win the game.

Earlier, the skipper produced a candidate for catch of the tournament leaping to his left, hands above his head, at second slip to snaffle Kusal Perera from the first ball of the match. Then his decision to bowl Daniel Vettori (in his first ODI since March 2011) as first change in the eighth over paid immediate dividends.

Jayawardene was adjudged lbw with Vettori's fourth ball. McCullum's aggressive field placings, including placing himself regularly at silly point, helped restrict Sri Lanka to 38 for four at the end of the first powerplay. It was a position from which they seemed unlikely to recover.

Mitchell McClenaghan had the best bowling figures of four for 43 off 8.5 overs. It is the third time in eight ODIs he has taken a four-wicket bag. The relationship with his captain is one of the boons of this ODI regime.

Kumar Sangakkara was Sri Lanka's top-scorer with 68. He was the only Sri Lankan who looked comfortable; his leg glances to the boundary off Southee and McClenaghan and a sweep off Williamson were particular treats.

Sri Lanka won the toss and batted, despite seven of eight previous ODIs at Cardiff being won by the chasing team. The average first innings total at Cardiff was 243 heading into the match, meaning New Zealand chances of securing victory always looked promising.

However, the New Zealand innings teetered on another state of contagion. Ronchi went early and, after four innings for 31 runs at 7.75, his place will come under review. His wicketkeeping has been sound so it might mean a swap in the order for James Franklin.

The rot set in with the dismissal of Kane Williamson plumb lbw after misjudging a full toss from Malinga who finished with four for 34 from his allotment. Williamson opted to use the sole decision review which later impacted on the lbw howler given to Vettori who nicked a Malinga delivery into his pad. The projected pathway of the ball got about as close to the middle of the stumps as you could without the use of a GPS unit. Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill followed within seven balls and one run afterwards.

That possum-in-the-headlights look when confronted with the spin of Rangana Herath and Dilshan remained a supplementary problem to Malinga.

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The Vettori-factor during the match was an intriguing sub-plot. He exerted the control fans have come accustomed to with the ball, taking one wicket for 16 from his six overs. The race to get him fit proved worthwhile. His arm ball to remove Jayawardene was a reminder of his cricketing guile, after turning the previous delivery prodigiously past the outside edge. His appeal was something Sir Richard Hadlee would have been proud of, and well justified. Vettori also managed to snare a difficult catch running back from mid-on to dismiss Thisara Perera. However, the way he hobbled around the field left doubt as to how long his Achilles tendon will last. The team treated him like precious cargo. He was inundated with a perpetual series of back pats and applause as if to say "C'mon old boy, let's get you through this tournament".

SCOREBOARD
Scoreboard - NZ v SL

- Herald on Sunday

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