Sri Lanka survive NZ scare to reach finals

March 30, 2011

Sri Lanka nearly did a South Africa against ‘Dark horses’ New Zealand, but managed to hold on to clinch a nervous 5 wicket win and head to Wankhede where they will play either India or Pakistan making it an all-Asia final.

The Kiwis would have been on a high coming into the game, having sent back the much-fancied South African team, but playing Sri Lanka in their own den would always prove to be a tough ask. The Asian country proved why they are so strong at home romping home to a 5 wicket win.

It was however, not all one way traffic for Sri Lanka as New Zealand looked well set to post a total in excess of 250 when Ross Taylor and Scott Styris were at the middle. The duo had put on a 70+ stand after New Zealand had lost their top 3 in a hurry.

Taylor and Styris found the going tough initially with the spinners keeping things in check, but they ensured there were no further setbacks and for a team that bats deep it was crucial that they had wickets in hand to up the ante towards the end. From 84/3 the duo added 77 precious runs to put their team in a good position at 161/3 after 39 overs. With a power packed batting line up to follow and 2 set batsmen at the crease, New Zealand would have set themselves a minimum target of 250. That was before their horrible collapse, their target kept reducing with every wicket that fell and they were eventually bundled out for 217. Styris was their best batsman, getting to his first 50 of this WC.

Taylor dispatched a rank long hop from Ajantha Mendis straight into the hands of Upul Tharanga. The right hander was uncharacteristically serene during his vigil at the crease and had he been playing his natural game, the ball would’ve disappeared out of the ground. That was the body blow for the Kiwis and it gave Sri Lanka the opening they were desperate for.

Kane Williamson and Styris did well to take Sri Lanka close to the 200 run mark, but the youngster was outfoxed by Lasith Malinga soon after. Murali had a dream send off, getting a wicket off the last ball of his home career. The Kiwis innings had capitulated; from 192-5 they slid to 217 all out in the 49th over. They lost the last 7 wickets for a mere 56 runs and their total looked at least 30- 40 runs short against the strong Sri Lankan batting line up.

It proved to be a competitive total nonetheless, but not enough. Sri Lanka’s brittleness in the middle order was exposed by New Zealand but not before an emphatic show by the top order had laid the stage for a win. They did make it difficult for themselves with the middle order failing to back the good show by the top order, but what eventually mattered was that they will be playing in probably the biggest game of their lives at the Wankhede stadium, Mumbai.

The openers have played a big part in Sri Lanka’s success so far at the WC, and they provided a steady opening stand to help the team dispel any jitters early on. Upul Tharanga continued from where he’d left off against England launching the second ball of the innings for a 6. It was smooth sailing for Lanka from there, till a flying Jesse Ryder held on to a blinder of a catch to send back Tharanga.

Sri Lanka seemed unperturbed after the opener’s dismissal as Kumar Sangakkara and Dilshan steadied the ship and took them closer with a good stand of over 100. The left hand- right hand combination kept the runs ticking and both soon notched up their 50s. Dilshan fell with Sri Lanka needing 58 to win and the Sri Lankan middle order, which was hardly tested in the WC so far, came up a cropper in finishing the game. Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Chamara Silva fell in the space of 25 runs to offer the Kiwis some hope.

It was a case of too little too late however for the Black Caps as T Samaraweera and A Mathews stuck to their tasks and guided Sri Lanka into the finals.

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