Sri Lanka continue domination
Sri Lanka announced themselves as major contenders for the ICC Champions Trophy by bouncing back to secure an emphatic seven-wicket victory over New Zealand in Mumbai.
Fancied before the start of the tournament as a major contender, Sri Lanka slumped to a defeat by Pakistan in their opening game to leave them needing victory in their remaining two group matches to retain an interest in the competition.
That sudden-death scenario inspired Sri Lanka to a vastly-improved display and after dismissing New Zealand for a lowly 165, they cruised to 166 for three in only 35.4 overs.
On a Brabourne Stadium pitch which had been sprayed with glue before the start to prevent it deteriorating and aid batting, New Zealand failed to take advantage after winning the toss.
Having claimed an impressive opening victory over South Africa, New Zealand knew they would secure their berth in the last four if they claimed another win today.
But instead of stamping their authority, New Zealand remained tentative virtually throughout their innings and after losing early wickets to the new ball they were unable to cope with the threat posed by Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya.
Captain Stephen Fleming and fellow opener Lou Vincent fell inside the first 12 overs after being frustrated at their inability to score quickly on a slow and low pitch and Hamish Marshall followed before the three powerplays were complete.
It allowed Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene to bring on his spin pair as soon as the powerplays had finished and they mopped up six New Zealand wickets.
Jayasuriya finished with 2-26 with his left-arm spin and began the collapse when he struck with his third ball to have all-rounder Scott Styris caught behind and Muralitharan followed by bowling Jacob Oram around his legs with the doosra in his opening over.
Muralitharan, who grabbed 4-23, also claimed the key wicket of Nathan Astle, who had been forced to play a more conservative role than normal because of the regular loss of wickets.
Astle battled for 74 balls to hit 42 but finally ran out of patience and was caught in the deep attempting an ambitious slog-sweep against Muralitharan.
With Sri Lanka’s spinners operating at both ends, New Zealand slumped to 118 for nine in the 39th over with little hope of reaching even a modest total.
But, almost too late, New Zealand finally established a partnership with left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori showing considerable composure and determination to forge a last-wicket stand with Jeetan Patel.
The pair added 47 off 66 balls with Vettori helping to add 32 off the last five overs before finishing unbeaten on 46 off 53 balls to at least give his side a slim chance of pressurising Sri Lanka’s formidable batting line-up.
Right from the start of their reply, though, Sri Lanka adopted a far more aggressive stance to the run chase with Jayasuriya smashing 20 off 15 balls, including two fours and a six.
Jayasuriya was particularly severe on strike bowler Shane Bond, who conceded 21 runs in his first two overs, and was perhaps unlucky to be given out after seamer Kyle Mills appealed for a catch behind off a contentious inside edge.
Fellow opener Upul Tharanga quickly made amends for his partner’s demise by continuing his impressive form over the last year with a superb 56.
Tharanga announced himself to English audiences with two centuries to help Sri Lanka claim a 5-0 whitewash during the one-day series last June and was similarly prolific during the qualifying rounds to this competition with another two hundreds.
He missed out on another three-figure score in Mumbai today but only after guiding Sri Lanka to within 30 runs of victory with 23 overs remaining following an 89-run partnership with Jayawardene.
The pair seemed on course to seal victory without any further loss when they both fell in quick succession to off-spinner Patel with the win in sight.
Jayawardene had battled to 48 when he attempted to accelerate and picked out Vettori down the ground and later in the same over, Tharanga came down the wicket and was stumped with some room to spare.
But with their victory never really in doubt, Sri Lanka wrapped up their triumph with Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu sealing the win with 14.2 overs remaining to firmly establish their Champions Trophy credentials.