Riding on a 91-run unbeaten knock by all-rounder Russel Arnold and his unbeaten 103-run stand with Suresh Perera for the fifth wicket, Sri Lanka pulled off a sensational five-wicket victory over New Zealand in the Coca-Cola Cup in Dambulla today.
Set to score 237 off 50 overs, Sri Lanka, who were tottering at 27 for 4 in the 9th over, made a superb comeback through brilliant efforts of Maravan Atapattu (66), Arnold and Perera (56 not out) and romped home to 240 for 5 with nine balls to spare.
With this third consecutive victory, Sri Lanka have strengthened their chances of a final berth with six points to leave New Zealand and India to battle it out for the other place. New Zealand have two points from three matches while India have yet to win a match in the series.
In keeping with the tradition so far in the series, New Zealand captain Craig McMillan, leading the side in the absence of Stephen Fleming who was ruled out due to stomach upset, promptly elected to bat on winning the toss. But the hosts upset their calculations and registered the first victory for a side batting second in this tournament.
Kyle Mills gave New Zealand a dream start when he dismissed Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya and wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharna in the second over of the innings. Jayasuriya was a trifle unlucky in being given lbw when the ball seemed to pitch outside the off-stump when he was on 5.
;Kaluwitharna was caught behind by Adam Parore off a beauty from the paceman. The ball pitched on perfect length and left the batsman after kissing his bat. Sri Lanka lost the first two wickets with just five runs on the board.
Marvan Atapattu opened his account with a cover driven boundary off Darryl Tuffy in the third over and looked solid as he set out for the damage control exercise. But his partner opener Avishka Gunawardene, who too started his scoring with a four off Mills, was increasingly uncomfortable having been tied down by the New Zealand bowlers.
Gunawardene was getting frustrated and in an effort to break the shackles slashed Tuffy off a wide delivery in the ninth over only to see Chris Harris come up with a brilliant diving catch at point. Gunawardene could manage only five off the 26 balls he faced.
New man Mahela Jayawardene went for an non-existent run and paid the price when a direct hit from Mathew Sinclair found him way out of the crease and he was back to pavilion without opening his account.
Atapattu remained unperturbed though and played some delightful drives on the off-side. He square cut Tuffy for a
boundary in the fourth over and drove a over-pitched delivery from Mills for the same result in the sixth over.
Showing impeccable timing and excellent footwork, Atapattu executed some brilliant strokes to keep the
Arnold, who came at the fall of Jayawardene, took his time to settle down and gave able support to Atapattu who was looking in a very fine touch. Sri Lanka, who have a reputation for putting up a big score in the first 15 overs, were in an extremely difficult situation at 48 for four when the fielding restrictions were lifted.
However, Atapattu and Arnold restrained their flashy stroke-making and concentrated on building a big partnership. Atapattu reached his 33rd half-century with a single off Chris Harris in the 27th over which also brought up the hundred of the team.
Atapattu however could not take his efforts to the logical conclusion and was run out for 66. Atapattu hit seven boundaries in his 91-ball knock. Sri Lanka lost their fifth wicket at 137 runs. With the asking rate nearing six runs an over, the Sri Lankans needed to step up their scoring and Perera and Arnold did exactly what was required as they went on the attack with some intelligent stroke-play.