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Creditable win it was

Sri Lanka pulled off a creditable 97-run win over New Zealand in the curtain raiser of the Compaq Cup Triangular ODI tournament match played at Premadasa International Stadium on Tuesday.

It was one of the greatest comebacks in ODI history as the home team bounced back to register a comfortable win at the end in the low-scoring game. It was the bowlers who called the tune in the opening match of the series, which also features India.

Sri Lanka came to the Tri-Series opener on a low note, having lost both the 20Twenty international against New Zealand. In fact, Sri Lanka, still searching for their maiden 20Twenty home win, continued their lean run, suffering their fourth successive 20Twenty defeat on home soil.

In contrast, the morale of the Kiwis was high, having won the two-match series against Sri Lanka 2-0. It was a disappointing performance by Sri Lanka who failed to live up to expectations as the runners-up of the last 20Twenty World Cup. New Zealand started from where they left in the 20Twenty series when they had Sri Lanka reeling at 69 for 5 in the 26th over.

With half the batsmen back in the pavilion and less than half of the full quota of 50 overs left, it appeared that Sri Lanka would not make any impact. Early departures of top order batsmen Tillakaratne Dilshan (4), Sanath Jayasuriya (7), Mahela Jayawardene (0), Kumar Sangakkara (18) and Thilina Kandambi (15), put the Kiwis in the box seat.

But it was then that the glorious uncertainties of cricket started talking.

Evergreen Thilan Samaraweera, joined by young Angelo Mathews started the repair job and they did it with a great deal of responsibility. At the end, they managed to raise 127 valuable runs for the sixth wicket in 22.2 overs which laid the foundation for that great fight back.

Samaraweera played the sheet anchor role with a majestic home made century 104 off 124 balls with ten boundaries. The supportive role played by inexperienced Mathews was commendable. He seems to be cementing his place at every given opportunity and here too, he played an aggressive knock of 51 off 60 balls. When the seniors were failing miserably and when his team was struggling for runs, it was heartening to see young Mathews showing what courage and determination is all about.

Even when Sri Lanka finally closed their innings at a modest 216 for 7 in 50 overs, the Kiwis were still holding the key to the three-nation opener. But Thilan Thushara made sure that new Zealand start their innings under pressure by removing opener Jesse Ryder, leg before wicket for a duck.

Sri Lanka continued to apply pressure on the Kiwi top order with Thushara's new ball partner Nuwan Kulasekera capturing two quick wickets in the fifth over of the New Zealand innings. Quick bowler Lasith Malinga's four-wicket haul finally shattered New Zealand's early hopes. Malinga struck thrice in a decisive 19th over to tighten screws on the New Zealand coffin.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka should not be overconfident after this surprise win.

True that the victory margin may look quite comfortable but the manner in which the home team earned victory was not that great. The Kiwis had everything except the winning formula. A target of 217 in 50 overs is definitely a reachable one even though they had to do their run chase under lights.

But the hoodoo of side batting second at Premadasa International Stadium continued and it was the Kiwis this time who were the unfortunate victims. Since 2004, the team winning the toss has batted first on 25 out of 31 occasions.

In the last 12 ODIs played at the Premadasa International Stadium, teams choosing to bat first have emerged victorious. Despite that sweet win, Sri Lanka has to put their house in order, if they are to overpower India and win the Compaq Cup. Especially, Sri Lanka's top order must click well to put healthy totals on the board. They cannot expect lady luck to smile on them all the time and unless a few big innings come from Tillakaratne Dilshan, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Sri Lanka could find it hard as the tournament progresses.

It is nice to see Lasith Malinga regaining his old touch and if he concentrates on his discipline and concentrate on the game well, he is capable of coming out with even greater achievements in the years to come.

He must make full use of his talent and be determined to be more consistent with his performance.

Paceman Kulasekera too is continuing from where he has left in 2008 season.

In 15 matches in 2009, he has so far captured 28 wickets at 22.68 to emerge as Sri Lanka's premier quick bowler in limited over cricket.

Despite their impressive record in Tests, Sri Lanka has gone down to the seventh position in the ICC World rankings for ODIs. Hence, the Compaq Cup provides ideal opportunity for Sri Lanka to regain the lost prestige. At present, India is placed second while the Kiwis take the fourth place in the ICC ODI World rankings.

It would be a tall order for Sri Lanka to win the title but they are capable of doing that, considering their impressive home record. Sri Lanka narrowly won their last ODI series against Pakistan 3-2, losing the last two games after securing the series early with three consecutive wins.

In contrast, India has won their last two ODI series in Sri Lanka while New Zealand too has a similar record.

Unless Sri Lanka fire all cylinders and strengthen their batting, they will have a tough time in meeting the challenge thrown by India in their next game scheduled for Saturday.

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