Mendis helps Sri Lanka into semis
Ajantha Mendis eased Sri Lanka into the ICC World Twenty20 semi-finals with three wickets in three stifling overs to finish off New Zealand’s challenge at Trent Bridge today.
Sri Lanka therefore retain a perfect record of five wins from five attempts in the tournament so far.
New Zealand appeared on course in mid-innings for a successful chase or at least a close finish, pursuing 158 for five in this Super Eights decider.
But after two big wickets fell in Mendis’ second over, two more went in the space of four deliveries to Isuru Udana and Sanath Jayasuriya - and the Kiwis capitulated to be all out for 110.
Mystery spinner Mendis finished with 3-9, and his veteran accomplice Muttiah Muralitharan conceded only 18 in his four overs.
It was harsh on New Zealand that they should end a match both teams needed to win to progress at their opponents’ expense in such hapless fashion, with three of their overs unused.
But the ability of spinners Mendis and Murali and pace bowlers Lasith Malinga and Udana to derail an apparently promising chase was testament to an attack renowned as the world’s best and most varied in all forms of cricket.
New Zealand’s reply to a Sri Lanka total which owed most to Tillekeratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene got off to a flying start.
Although Brendon McCullum was unable to cash in with significant runs after passing a late fitness test on his broken finger - caught in the off-side ring off Udana - his opening partner Aaron Redmond reprised his innings on this same ground against Ireland five days ago, with another string of boundaries off the left-arm spin of Jayasuriya.
He met a disappointing end when Malinga’s notorious change of pace had him chipping a catch to midwicket - and Ross Taylor, another who was pronounced fit to play this important match only minutes before the start, became Mendis’ first victim when he swung himself off his feet as he tried to sweep and was stumped by Kumar Sangakkara.
Scott Styris seemed entranced by a Mendis ball which just did enough to beat an attempted push-drive and took out off stump. But Martin Guptill ensured New Zealand were still right in the game at the halfway point of their innings, on 77 for four.
When Chamara Silva misjudged a tough outfield catch to reprieve Guptill off Udana on 35, it seemed Sri Lanka had possibly fluffed a telling chance.
Guptill could add only another eight, though, before sweeping Jayasuriya straight into the hands of deep square-leg.
Then with Jacob Oram already bowled heaving at Udana, the last six Kiwi wickets fell in a rush for only 17 runs in little more than four overs.
Sri Lanka’s day had begun with an unaccustomed golden duck for Jayasuriya, who mistimed a sweep at off-spinner Nathan McCullum and was easily held at short fine-leg to be first out after Sangakkara had won the toss on a sunny afternoon.
New number three Silva did not last long either, aiming a big hit to leg but merely chipping a catch to mid-on off Kyle Mills.
Opener Dilshan unsurprisingly stayed on the attack - and although there were none of his trademark scoop shots or reverse-sweeps, he dominated a 62-run third-wicket stand with Sangakkara.
The Sri Lanka captain was subdued throughout and never accelerated above a run-a-ball tempo. But after Dilshan drove Daniel Vettori low yet straight into the hands of cover, Jayawardene took the initiative with some classy and almost instant strokeplay.
Vettori paid for an unlikely overstep when Jayawardene went up the wicket for his free hit next ball and lofted a pedigree and entirely orthodox straight six.
Jayawardene’s share of a 50 stand from 37 balls was 35 - and with Sangakkara gone immediately afterwards to an aerial pull into the deep off Vettori, he stayed to the end and lost no momentum.
A largely conventional batsman, he unveiled a trick in the final over which has yet to be tried by even the most innovative of the new breed of Twenty20 specialists - a ‘reverse-paddle’ for four off the back of the bat to fine-leg off Oram.
That moment of ingenuity was perhaps the most memorable snapshot of a match in which in-form Sri Lanka had everything to lose but proved themselves collectively a cut above with their array of at times eccentric but always world-class skills.