Sri Lanka survives a minor scare

Leading from the front...Kumar Sangakkara played a captain's knock when it mattered most.-AP

Chasing 217 against New Zealand in the first semifinal of the 2011 World Cup, Lanka made heavy weather of a nominal target, and it was left to its scratchy and fortuitous lower middle order to heave it across the line and into its second successive World Cup final, reports Kunal Diwan.

Sri Lanka nailed it. But not before it had induced cardiac arrhythmias on a mass scale. Chasing 217 against New Zealand in the first semifinal of the 2011 World Cup, Lanka made heavy weather of a nominal target, and it was left to its scratchy and fortuitous lower middle order to heave it across the line and into its second successive World Cup final.

The match was Muthiah Muralitharan's last ODI on home soil, and the legendary offie marked the occasion with a wicket in his final delivery, in the same manner in which he'd claimed an ultimate Test victim — his 800th — off his last Test ball.

After restricting New Zealand to a sub-par total, Sri Lanka tightened its hold when Upul Tharanga (30) got off to a flier, and the conclusion appeared foregone when a 120-run partnership between Tillakaratne Dilshan (73) and skipper Kumar Sangakkara (54) took the 1996 champion to within 58 runs of the target, 17.2 overs to spare and nine wickets intact, its two most prolific batsmen in the tournament coursing along like rivers downhill. It was here that New Zealand's persistence in the field began to pay off.

Jesse Ryder, who had launched himself horizontally from point to grab a stunner from Tharanga's blade, took another one, off the bowling of Tim Southee, and out went Dilshan. Mahela Jayawardene (1) was trapped in front by Daniel Vettori within three balls of the opener, and Kumar Sangakkara's “one shot too many”, as he described it post match, awoke in the Kiwis a glimmer of hope. Three wickets for nine runs and, Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva in the middle, and the requirement for a Sri Lanka win still looked unthreatening, 51 off 13.4, six wickets in hand.

Rabid followers of the tournament would have remembered then that it was these two, especially Silva, who had stagnated so badly in Lanka's chase against Pakistan in the league phase, costing it the game. Once again, they struggled to get going; playing, missing, retreating and failing to add even singles to the total. Silva struck two boundaries before Southee bowled him in the 43rd over, with Sri Lanka needing 35 and Vettori trying desperately to cordon the batters within a threatening ring.

It could have gotten tighter were it not for all-rounder Angelo Mathews, who had pulled a muscle going for a stop in the field in New Zealand's innings. Mathews returned to bat, joining Samaraweera (23) in the middle, and then Lanka benefitted from a huge slice of luck when Andy McKay bowled a wide down leg-side that hurried to the boundary, greatly relieving the pressure.

Mathews (14) smote a six and a four to ensure Sri Lanka a berth in the final, but New Zealand by then had made a match of it, ending on the losing end, but displaying its characteristic grit in the field.

Matches in India and Bangladesh laid claim on all the excitement in the tournament, the fixtures in Sri Lanka panning out largely on form and reputation. Although Pakistan did its best to enliven the island in three overs against New Zealand in Pallikele, the last match on Lankan shores, the semifinal, looked to be headed the same drab way when skipper Daniel Vettori won the toss and found that his team was unable to break the shackles that Sri Lankan spinners locked it in.

It was ultimately Scott Styris (57) and Ross Taylor (36) that gave some bulk to the total, but Lasith Malinga (three for 55) struck each time the Kiwis looked to take flight, and Ajantha Mendis and Dilshan cleaned up the tail. Styris proved to be Murali's final ODI home victim, the ball jagging back and rapping him on the pads. Sangakkara was declared Man of the Match.

THE SCORE

First semifinal, Colombo, March 29. Sri Lanka won by 5 wickets.

New Zealand: M. Guptill b Malinga 39; B. McCullum b Herath 13; J. Ryder c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 19; R. Taylor c Tharanga b Mendis 36; S. Styris lbw Muralitharan 57; K. Williamson lbw Malinga 22; N. McCullum c Sangakkara b Malinga 9; J. Oram c Jayawardene b Dilshan 7; D. Vettori (not out) 3; T. Southee c Sangakkara b Mendis 0; A. McKay b Mendis 0; Extras (lb-5, w-6, nb-1) 12. Total (in 48.5 overs) 217.

Fall of wickets: 1-32, 2-69, 3-84, 4-161, 5-192, 6-204, 7-213, 8-215, 9-217.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 9-0-55-3, Herath 9-1-31-1, Mathews 6-0-27-0, Mendis 9.5-0-35-3, Muralitharan 10-1-42-2, Dilshan 5-0-22-1.

Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga c Ryder b Southee 30; T. Dilshan c Ryder b Southee 73; K. Sangakkara c Styris b McKay 54; M. Jayawardene lbw Vettori 1; T. Samaraweera (not out) 23; C. Silva b Southee 13; A. Mathews (not out) 14; Extras (lb-2, w-10) 12. Total (for five wickets in 47.5 overs) 220.

Fall of wickets: 1-40, 2-160, 3-161, 4-169, 5-185.

New Zealand bowling: N. McCullum 6-0-33-0, Southee 10-2-57-3, Vettori 10-0-36-1, Oram 8-1-29-0, McKay 9.5-1.37-1, Styris 2-0-12-0, Ryder 2-0-14-0.