PALLEKELE   -   New Zealand overcame a Lasith Malinga and a shaky start to beat Sri Lanka in the first T20I on Sunday night to take 1-0 lead in the three-match series at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.

Set a challenging 175 to win after Sri Lanka opener Kusal Mendis hit a quickfire 79, Ross Taylor (48 off 29) and Colin de Grandhomme (44 off 28) put New Zealand’s chase back on track, setting base for the five-wicket win with three deliveries to spare.

Akila Dananjaya (1/30) and Malinga (2/23) rocked New Zealand early getting rid of their openers inside the Powerplay overs. Then debutante Wanidu Hasaranga (2/21) struck with his second delivery of international career to have Tim Seifert (15) caught-behind in the eight over as the hosts took control. However, Taylor and de Grandhomme counterattacked during a period when they looted 61 runs in 24 deliveries keeping their team in the hunt.

The partnership was worth 79 and brought under control the ever-rising required run-rate. Sri Lanka hit back through Malinga who cleaned up De Grandhomme whose innings featured four fours and two sixes. The wicket, Malinga’s 99th of T20I career, pushed him to the top of the list of leading wicket-takers in the format’s history. However, Taylor continued to take his team closer, surviving a dropped catch on 40 before becoming Hasaranga’s second victim.

As soon as Taylor departed off the fifth delivery of 17th over, rain returned having earlier delayed the toss. However, as was the case before, it was a brief interruption with the play resuming soon.  The equation was 34 off 19. Daryl Mitchell (25*) and Mitchell Santner (14*) held their nerves to take 28 runs off the next two overs before sealing the deal in the final over.

Earlier, Mendis took charge as the hosts elected to bat first, building crucial partnerships including a 63-run third-wicket stand with Niroshan Dickwella, who made 33. Opener Kusal Perera made 11 before falling to Kiwi skipper Tim Southee and number-three batsman Avishka Fernando was out for 10 as Sri Lanka slipped to 68 for two. Mendis held firm to complete his fifth T20 fifty with a boundary off Colin de Grandhomme and went on to register his career-best score in the shortest format. His previous-best was 70.

He survived a reprieve on 55 when Ish Sodhi dropped a tough catch at short fine leg to add crucial runs in his 53-ball stay that was laced with eight fours and two sixes. Mendis was finally holed out at deep mid-wicket off Southee, who returned figures of 2/20 from his four overs of pace.

The tourists suffered a blow when paceman Lockie Ferguson broke his thumb in training on Saturday to be ruled out of the series.

Man of the match Ross Taylor said: “We knew 175 would be tough. Colin de Grandhomme got a lot of pressure off me with boundaries, so the asking rate was always in check. It’s nice to know what your role is in the team and I can offer some experience at the other end while batting.”

 We probably didn’t field as well as we’d have liked. When Colin hit Udana for a four and a six was when we got the momentum. The focus is now on the T20 World Cup.”