Wellington, New Zealand: Injury-stricken Sri Lanka gained a morale boost ahead of the World Cup by beating New Zealand by 34 runs in Thursday's last match of the seven-game one-day series.
Kumar Sangakkara made 113 not out and Tillakaratne Dilshan 81 in Sri Lanka's 287-6 and debuting fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera took 2-60 as New Zealand was bowled out for 253 in reply.
New Zealand won the seven-match series 4-2 - one match was rained out - but Sri Lanka gained consolation and confidence from an improved performance.
The tourists won without ill captain Angelo Mathews, injured bowlers Jeevan Mendis and Suranga Lakmal and spinner Rangana Herath, who returned home because of a family illness.
The match helped again to highlight the respective strengths and weaknesses of the teams ahead of the World Cup and which have been delineated throughout the series.
Sri Lanka has immense strength and experience in the top four of its batting order with Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene — players who boast among them more than 1,200 one-day internationals and 36,000 runs.
Sangakkara became Sri Lanka's leading run-scorer in one-day internationals Thursday, overtaking Sanath Jayusirya who is a current selector, and claimed two catches to set a world record for wicketkeeping dismissals in ODIs, surpassing Australia's Adam Gilchrist.
But Sri Lanka's middle and lower order, perhaps through an over-reliance on those top-four players, has often been unable to build on a solid start or maintain the momentum of an innings. Sri Lanka was 157-1 after 30 overs on Thursday, heading for a total well in excess of 300, but after the top three — Dilshan, Sangakkara and Thirimanne who made 30 — the next best effort was from Thisara Perera who scored 20 from 12 balls.
"It's been a good year, the entire team's been working really hard and the hard work's been paying off with some really good performances," Sangakkara said. "I think the guys are a bit disappointed we couldn't win the series but we were really competitive right throughout."
New Zealand also showed the depth and versatility of its bowling, halting Sri Lanka through the new ball pair of Kyle Mills and Tim Southee who shared three wickets and all rounder Corey Anderson who took 3-59 as fourth-change.
The New Zealand innings also demonstrated the weaknesses which have been made more apparent in its play throughout the series. It lacks and consistent and reliable opening partnership: Martin Guptill was out to the first ball of the innings for the second time in the series and his lack of form remains a major concern as the World Cup approaches.
Brendon McCullum sat out the match, handing the captaincy to Kane Williamson who led New Zealand in a one-day international for the ninth time. Tom Latham opened in McCullum's place but was out for six, continuing a run of failures which makes him a risky option as an opener during the World Cup.
New Zealand's again showed the reliability of Kane Williamson at first drop and the potency of its middle and lower order. Williamson made 54 as New Zealand stumbled to 121-5, then Luke Ronchi (47) and Daniel Vettori (35), who shared a 74-run partnership for the seventh wicket which caused Sri Lanka some late anxiety.
Nuwan Kulasekara, who trapped Guptill lbw with his first ball of the match, returned to bowl Ronchi when New Zealand was 215-7 after 40 overs and to effectively clinch the match for Sri Lanka. Vettori fell soon after to the bowlng of Seekkuge Prasanna.
New Zealand remained competitive and Kyle Mills (30 not out) added 28 for the last wicket with Mitchell McClenaghan to keep the home team competitive to the end.
"Obviously we want to win every game we play but Sri Lanka played fantastic today and outplayed us in all facets off the back of Sangakkara's hundred and Dilshan's great knock," Williamson said.