Lanka battered

While New Zealand unearthed some new talent, Sri Lanka struggled to come to terms with new rules such as power plays and super subs, writes Rex Clementine.

Sri Lanka's batting and bowling inadequacies were exposed when they lost the Test and ODI series in India and the team's fortunes suffered further setbacks in New Zealand when they lost the ODI series 4-1. The series in New Zealand was a continuation of the one that was postponed after the tsunami on December 26, 2004. The tourists started the campaign 1-0 down after they had lost the Auckland ODI played just a few hours before the tsunami.

As a result of the India and the New Zealand debacles, Sri Lanka — who were number two in the ODI world rankings two months ago — slipped to seven in the table. Poor form, injuries, bad luck and split-ups in the team affected the Sri Lankans throughout the New Zealand tour. They lost three straight games and managed to win the last one before they crossed the Tasman border for the VB Series.

THE PICTURESQUE TOURIST destination of Queenstown hosted the first game of the series, which the Sri Lankans played without a warm-up game. New Zealand, on the other hand, had their intensity levels pretty high coming from a tough series against Australia. The tourists failed with both bat and ball after Kiwi stand-in captain Daniel Vettori put them in. Vettori was in charge of New Zealand after Stephen Fleming decided to miss the Queenstown and Christchurch games to be with his partner who was expecting the couple's first child. Sri Lanka's batsmen struggled against Kyle Mills, Shane Bond, Chris Cairns and Jacob Oram. They lost the top four for just 41 before captain Atapattu,Tillekeratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold hung around to ensure the team got to 164 in 47.2 overs. The two new Kiwi top-order batsmen, debutant Jammie How and Peter Fulton playing in his second ODI, made half-centuries and saw New Zealand home.

IN THE NEXT GAME at Jade Stadium, Christchurch, Sri Lanka suffered a cruel blow on the morning of the game when Sanath Jayasuriya slipped in the bath and dislocated his already-damaged right shoulder ruling him out of the remainder of the series. On a better batting wicket, opener Upul Tharanga, 20, scored his second international hundred in only his 11th game. The highly rated left-hander added 109 runs for the second wicket with Kumar Sangakkara. Captain Marvan Atapattu lifted the tempo in the slog overs with a half-century in 46 deliveries.

Lou Vincent set the stage for the Kiwi reply, hammering 46 in 44 balls. The out-of-form Nathan Astle, who had been axed for the Sri Lankan series and who got an opportunity only because Fleming pulled out, guided the hosts home with an unbeaten 90. Tharanga was named the Man of the Match.

Fleming returned for the fourth ODI on his home ground, Wellington. New Zealand pulled off an unlikely victory in the day-night fixture. A sensational spell of seam bowling by Chaminda Vaas had set the stage for Sri Lanka, who restricted the Kiwis to 224. The Kiwi last-wicket pair of James Franklin and Bond added a valuable 35 in 30 balls and the partnership was vital in New Zealand's eventual 21-run victory.

Sri Lanka chased the target in style with Sangakkara and Jehan Mubarak adding 72 runs for the second wicket. Sangakkara scored 50 off only 45 balls. Jayawardene, Dilshan, Atapattu and Arnold all got into double figures but failed to capitalise. The tourists struggled against newcomer Jeetan Patel, whose off-spin got New Zealand two vital wickets and more importantly dried up the runs. His two for 23 won him the Man of the Match award as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 203.

Two days later, the ODI caravan moved to Napier, which gives fond memories for Sri Lanka as it was in this scenic coastal town they recorded their first Test win away from home in 1995. Atapattu called rightly this time and chose to bat first. After the openers departed, Sangakkara prospered with an array of attacking shots. He fell to part-time spinner Astle for 58. Dilshan made 43. Captain Atapattu batted well again top-scoring with 69 in 68 balls. Jayawardene made a quick 30 as Sri Lanka finished at 273 for six. Chris Martin, who was recalled for the last game of the series in place of the injured Mills, claimed three for 62.

SRI LANKA REDUCED New Zealand to 13 for two, sending back captain Fleming and Vincent. Fulton held the innings together as he added 108 runs for the third wicket with Astle who made 47 and a further 78 for the fourth wicket with Marshall (35). New Zealand were cruising along at 199 for three in the 37th over. Left-arm seamer Ruchira Perera, playing his first game in the series, removed Marshall and McCullum in his second spell and in between Sri Lanka also managed to get rid of Fulton.

Fulton scored his first ODI hundred, a fine 112 in 131 balls with eight fours and two sixes, but the 26-year-old failed to finish things off. After his dismissal, `Man of the Match' Chaminda Vaas used all his experience to good effect to give Sri Lanka a face-saving victory. Vaas first bowled Vettori and in his next over struck twice by removing the dangerous Carins and the big-hitting Franklin. Sri Lanka won by 20 runs.

The 4-1 series win helped New Zealand to unearth some new talents in Fulton, How and Patel. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, struggled to come to terms with new rules such as Power Plays and Super Subs. While Vaas was sensational, Muttiah Muralitharan disappointed with only three wickets in four games.