Jayawardene runs the show
Mahela Jayawardene’s first World Cup hundred carried 1996 winners Sri Lanka into this weekend’s final with an 81-run win over New Zealand at Sabina Park.
The captain’s unbeaten 115 underpinned a total of 289 for five - and then the Kiwis’ reply lurched to 208 all out in only 41.4 overs, thanks largely to a collapse of four wickets for two runs in 11 balls.
Muttiah Muralitharan (4-31) unsurprisingly cashed in with three of those middle-order wickets to help put New Zealand in a situation from which there was no escape.
It was nonetheless Jayawardene’s well-paced and expertly-executed century which was the most telling factor in a result which puts Sri Lanka through to face South Africa or Australia in Barbados on Saturday and leaves New Zealand once more short of the showpiece match, following their fifth semi-final.
Jayawardene needed 48 balls before he hit a boundary, but he backed himself to use the 50 overs and - after one significant piece of fortune on 70 when Shane Bond ought to have taken a routine catch off Jeetan Patel but instead parried a sweep for six - he was vindicated.
The first half of Jayawardene’s innings was characterised by clever placement for ones and twos, and his second fifty came from just 28 balls as he launched into trademark timing to all parts.
Upul Tharanga’s 73 at almost a run a ball first put Sri Lanka on course for a competitive total, after they chose to bat first on a pacy pitch only to lose Sanath Jayasuriya in only the third over.
Jayasuriya was being targeted by Bond in the pre-match bluster, but it was left-armer James Franklin who got the danger man, bowled aiming across a full-length delivery.
Tharanga might have gone already for just one run had Ross Taylor’s throw from cover hit one stump as a fretful Jayasuriya pushed for a single to get off the mark.
The Kiwis were unable to part Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara, though, until the latter mistimed a catch low to mid-on.
Tharanga was joined by a watchful Jayawardene, who was happy to allow the opener to continue to provide the momentum in a half-century which contained eight boundaries.
When Daniel Vettori was introduced Tharanga upped the ante, and New Zealand did not help themselves with some increasingly shoddy work in the field.
But Vettori got his revenge when Tharanga was bowled round his legs sweeping, and the return of Bond did for Chamara Silva - unfortunate to be given out lbw via a significant inside edge.
Jayawardene remained unflustered, and his confidence proved well-placed as he and Tillakaratne Dilshan put on 81 in 11 overs.
A staggering 102 came from the last 10, the centurion adding three sixes to his 10 fours as Russel Arnold also prospered.
New Zealand were therefore faced with a tough target, and when the skies began to darken for the start of their innings, Lasith Malinga and Chaminda Vaas duly made life even tougher.
Malinga in particular took advantage of awkward light to beat the bat with the majority of his express deliveries in a new-ball spell of 1-5 from four overs.
His victim was New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, lbw to a ball snaking into him at a hurtling pace.
Vaas’ swing was also a handful, and he eventually had Taylor lbw aiming to leg with a touch of desperation.
Opener Fulton weathered that storm, however, to launch a short-lived fightback in a third-wicket stand of 73 with Scott Styris.
It was only when Styris chipped Dilshan’s off-spin tamely to mid-wicket that the clatter of wickets began.
Next to go was Jacob Oram, to a diving return catch by Murali, who struck with his next ball when Brendon McCullum looped a mistimed sweep to square-leg, where Silva took a splendid diving catch.
Jayasuriya got in on the act when Fulton holed out at mid-on, leaving New Zealand with nowhere to go.
Despite some truncated defiance from the injured Craig McMillan, batting with a runner - and a half-century last-wicket stand between Franklin and Patel which just hinted at a sting in the tail - New Zealand exited the competition with a whimper.