The first T20I at Pallekele was a close one. Sri Lanka batting first put up a competitive total on the board thanks to an enterprising 79 by Kusal Mendis. The bowling attack led by Lasith Malinga had New Zealand on the ropes at 39/3 but the depth and strength in the visitor’s XI came to the fore in the end. New Zealand won a close game in the last over with Ross Taylor top-scoring with a good 48.
Sri Lanka would be disappointed as they were in control of the game until the 8th over of the New Zealand innings before Taylor and Grandhomme took the game away from the hosts. All was not smooth sailing for New Zealand though. The opening combination of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro once again failed to impress. Both these batters have been struggling over the last couple of months and had a horror world cup to boot. T20 being his favourite format, a lot was expected out of Colin Munro but his failure once again puts doubt on his position in the side.
The bowling attack except for Captain Tim Southee and Mitchell Santner struggled and with injury to Lockie Ferguson, the visitors have no choice but to stick with the same combination. The middle order of New Zealand though stepped up, which will be heartening to their management. For Sri Lanka, though the return to form of talented Kusal Mendis will be a huge boost. Niroshan Dickwella also played a crucial know and spent some time in the middle which will be an advantaged for the hosts for the rest of the series.
The bowling attack led by the brilliant Lasith Malinga was good at the start but faltered later in the innings which might be cause for worry for the hosts. The fielding also was an issue and drop catches did not help their cause in trying to defend a par score. Lasith Malinga would want better performance on the field from his players in the second game to keep the series alive.
Ross Taylor (New Zealand): Ross Taylor showed good form in the first T20 and rescued his team from a precarious situation to help them win the game. In the absence of Kane Williamson, he is the experienced player in the middle order and with a misfiring top order, his position becomes crucial for New Zealand.
Mitchell Santner (New Zealand): Santner once again had a great game in the first T20. He not only picked up wickets but also stemmed the flow of runs as he normally does in white-ball cricket. In the absence of Lockie Ferguson, his contribution in the middle overs will be crucial for New Zealand.
Kusal Mendis (Sri Lanka): Mendis played a tremendous knock of 79 in the first T20 to guide his team to a good total and him being in form is a huge boost for the hosts. He is one of the experienced hand in the XI and once again will be crucial in the top order.
Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka): Lasith Malinga proved in the first T20 that he is still a very good white-ball bowler. He was good with the new ball but wasn’t very consistent in the final overs which he would like to correct. He is still crucial for the hosts with the ball and would be required to deliver in the final overs for Sri Lanka to make a comeback.
What they said?
“We have a great group of guys, a number of young guys coming out and playing with freedom, and also the experienced guys stepping up in crucial moments. It’s a great mix of youth and experience which makes my job easier,” said Tim Southee after their win in the first T20I
“They are not experienced under these conditions. They have to take the opportunities. In wet conditions hard to control the ball. We want to play our best cricket in the next game. The bowlers have to accumulate to wet conditions. Mental preparation is important too.” – said Lasith Malinga about the young players in the side.
Sri Lanka XI:
Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Avishka Fernando, Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka, Isuru Udana, Akila Dananjaya, Wanidu Hasranga, Lasith Malinga, Lakshan Sandakan/Lahiru Kumara
New Zealand XI:
Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Tim Seifert, Colin de Grandhomme, Ross Taylor, Daryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner, Scott Kuggelejin, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Seth Rance
Sri Lanka may have come close in the first T20I but their bowling at the end and fielding cost them the game. Dropping Ross Taylor at the start cost them the match and they would be hoping that their fielders have a better time in the second all-important game. For New Zealand, though the middle order was tested to the fullest and the bowling attack performed well under pressure. Both the teams would want to improve upon their performance in the second T20 but for the hosts, they would need to win to keep the series alive.