Mathews: I was always confident
Angelo Mathews never doubted Sri Lanka would get over the line in their World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
The co-hosts appeared to be coasting into Saturday’s final, against either India or Pakistan in Mumbai, as they reached 160 for one in pursuit of 217, with the in-form duo of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara at the crease.
However, Dilshan was then dismissed for 73 and Sangakkara also departed for 54 during a dramatic collapse under the R Premadasa Stadium lights that saw four wickets fall for just 25 runs.
It therefore fell to the big-hitting Mathews and Thilan Samaraweera to settle the nerves and finish the job with an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 35.
“I never had any doubt, because I always thought we were going to win,” said all-rounder Mathews, who had to bat with a runner after injuring his thigh while fielding.
“It was getting to us, because the pressure was on. We had to pull something out of the bag.
“But I couldn’t ask for any more, doing it in the semi-finals.”
Mathews appears optimistic his injury will not stop him taking part on Saturday.
“We’ll have to see how it is tomorrow, and rest it,” he added.
Master off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan marked the last match of his record-breaking international career in his native country - the forthcoming final will be his swansong - by taking a wicket with his very last ball.
Both Mathews and Sangakkara were delighted to pay tribute to their country’s most famous cricketer.
“He’s just a legend - the best spinner in the world,” said Mathews. “He’s done a great job right through the tournament. All credit to him.”
Sangakkara added: “He is the icon of Sri Lanka - as a champion, a cricketer and a human being. He is the ultimate team man. You cannot ask for anything more than that.”
Sangakkara was sweating a little after he and Dilshan were out, but said: “It was Murali’s last match, and everyone was pumped to make sure we gave him a great send-off.”
Beaten New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori had already revealed he would relinquish his position at the end of this campaign.
“It will be sad to step down, but I look forward to carrying on playing,” he said.
Sri Lanka, he predicts, will be difficult opponents for whoever else reaches the final.
“They are going to be very tough, particularly their bowling unit if they all click,” he added.