Sri Lanka overcome brave Black Caps
Co-hosts Sri Lanka survived a late scare to book their place in Saturday’s World Cup final with a five-wicket win over New Zealand at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
After defeating England by 10 wickets on this ground three days ago, Sri Lanka looked set to record another hugely convincing triumph as, chasing a modest total of 218, they reached 160 for one in the 33rd over.
However, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who struck 73 at the top of the order, and Mahela Jayawardene then departed in the space of three balls and, when skipper Kumar Sangakkara followed for 54, New Zealand sensed an opportunity to emulate their stirring fightback against South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Tim Southee removed Chamara Silva with 33 runs still required to keep the Black Caps in the hunt, but Sri Lanka eventually scrambled home with 13 balls to spare and now await the winner of tomorrow’s hugely anticipated semi-final between India and Pakistan.
Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis had each claimed three wickets earlier in the day as New Zealand were dismissed for 217 with seven balls unused, while legendary off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan returned figures of 2-42 in his last international appearance in Sri Lanka.
Muralitharan, who will retire from international cricket after this tournament, bade farewell on a suitably high note as he trapped Scott Styris lbw, for 57, with his final delivery.
Styris was the only Black Cap batsman to reach 50 and his departure came during the middle of a late collapse that saw New Zealand’s last six wickets fall for 25 runs in 32 balls.
Their lower-order failings would prove costly in the light of Sri Lanka’s subsequent wobble, although Daniel Vettori's side should be credited for the spirit they showed in setting up a tense finale.
Vettori, who will stand down as captain having overseen yet another tournament in which New Zealand exceeded expectations, elected to bat first on the same pitch that had been used in the game between Sri Lanka and England.
Openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum got off to a confident start, but the latter was bowled for 13 in the eighth over as he looked to swipe Rangana Herath over deep square-leg for a second six.
After a period of consolidation, it was Muralitharan who made the second breakthrough for Sri Lanka as he had Jesse Ryder caught behind off a delivery that gained extra bounce off the surface.
New Zealand suffered a further setback in the 22nd over as Malinga breached the defences of Guptill, who had made 39, with a trademark inswinging yorker.
Styris and Ross Taylor shared a valuable partnership of 77, although the latter was unable to find the fluency he had exhibited during his devastating century against Pakistan earlier in the competition.
Taylor had cleared the leg-side boundary on seven occasions in that match, but could muster just one four today before pulling a Mendis long-hop straight to Upal Tharanga at deep midwicket.
The experienced Styris, who used his feet well to the spinners and also punished a number of loose deliveries from Malinga, moved to 50 soon after and New Zealand initially enjoyed success upon taking the batting powerplay at the start of the 42nd over, with 21 runs coming from the first 12 balls.
Kane Williamson was chiefly responsible for the increase in tempo as he thumped three boundaries in an entertaining 16-ball 22.
However, he then fell victim to another full delivery from Malinga, who rapped the batsman on the pads as he walked across his stumps, and New Zealand’s innings crumbled thereafter.
Nathan McCullum was caught behind as he looked to heave a Malinga slower ball over the leg side and Muralitharan sent the crowd into raptures with the wicket of Styris, for whom a review proved unsuccessful.
Dilshan picked up his first wicket as Jacob Oram holed out to long-on and Tim Southee was caught behind off Mendis, who wrapped up the innings by bowling Andy McKay for a duck.
Tharanga wasted little time in displaying his intent with the bat as he lofted the third ball of Sri Lanka’s innings - bowled by Nathan McCullum - down the ground for six.
Tharanga continued to dominate an opening stand of 40 with Dilshan, but the left-hander departed for 30 when Ryder - diving to his left at point - pulled off a stunning one-handed catch off Southee.
The wicket did little to disrupt Sri Lanka’s momentum and both Dilshan and Sangakkara appeared at ease as they shared a partnership of 120 for the second wicket.
Dilshan, who largely reined in his attacking instincts, pulled Styris for four in the 20th over to overtake England’s Jonathan Trott as the tournament’s leading run-scorer, while Sangakkara moved past 400 runs in the competition with a straight six off Nathan McCullum.
With the required run-rate well under control, there was little concern when Dilshan drove loosely at Southee, who finished with 3-57, and provided Ryder with a second catch.
However, Jayawardene lasted just three balls before falling leg before to Vettori for one and Sangakkara threw his wicket away as he picked out Styris at third man with a deliberate upper-cut off McKay.
Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva put on 16 in six nervy overs, only for the latter to then chop a wide delivery from Southee onto his leg stump.
At that point, New Zealand remained in with a shout, but Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews, who batted with a runner after injuring his thigh in the field, finished unbeaten on 23 and 14 respectively to see Sri Lanka home.