Sri Lanka cruise into final

New Zealand’s struggle with World Cup semi-finals continued today as they were comprehensively beaten by Sri Lanka in Kingston. After the Kiwis possibly held the upper hand for the first half of the first innings, an amazing century by Mahela Jayawardene guided the Sri Lankans through to a strong total of 289-5 before a horrendous batting collapse by New Zealand ensured that they will be on the next flight home while the Sri Lankans head to Barbados with a chance of winning the Cup for the second time.

The early part of the first innings, after Sri Lanka had won the toss and elected to bat, was a story of players whose places in their team were under some scrutiny proving their critics wrong. James Franklin, so frequently criticised as an ODI bowler, took the two vital wickets of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara, while Upul Tharanga silenced all those who thought he should have been dropped in favour of the more experienced Marvan Atapattu with an excellent 73.

The second part of the innings though belonged entirely to the Sri Lankan captain. Jayawardene started very slowly, at one stage being on just 2 from 18 balls, but paced his innings to perfection and eventually brought up his century from just 104 balls. His early patience was rewarded in the final stages of the innings, scoring 69 of the 102 runs his team scored in the last ten overs of the innings.

The New Zealand bowling was poor, with the possible exception of Franklin’s early spell, and the fielding was well below the usual standard with a number of missed run-outs and catches, but nothing should be taken away from the superb batting performance by the Sri Lankan lineup and particularly its captain.

The New Zealanders, demoralised by the painful end to what was at one stage looking like such a promising display in the field, then had their fading hopes of reaching that elusive first final dented even further by the opening spells of Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga. The batsmen hardly managed to make contact with a single delivery from the latter, with the majority of his balls comprehensively beating Peter Fulton, Stephen Fleming and particularly Ross Taylor. But although Fleming and Taylor were early casualties, it looked as though New Zealand were climbing out of the hole they had helped dig for themselves through a promising partnership between Fulton and New Zealand’s star of the tournament, Scott Styris.

The two put on more than 50 runs at better than a run a ball, swinging the momentum and possibly even favouritism to win the match back in their favour. But then it all came crashing down in an extraordinary collapse that shattered New Zealand’s hopes. It started with the wicket of Styris and finished with 5 wickets falling for 11 runs, including two in two balls to Muttiah Muralitharan, and suddenly 105-2 was 116-7.

Craig McMillan, batting lower in the order and with a runner due to a stomach muscle injury suffered during the first innings, ensured his team went out with a bang with a hard-hitting 25 from just 20 balls, but it was only delaying the inevitable. His wicket was the eighth to fall with the team score at 144, a mere 146 shy of the target.

Franklin and Jeetan Patel put on a respectable partnership for the last wicket, showing some of their team-mates well above them in the batting order how they should have played. They put on more than 50, the second-largest partnership of the innings, before Patel tried yet another of the big hits the two were playing with surprising regularity and was this time caught on the boundary, ending New Zealand’s innings at 208 and handing the Sri Lankans an 81-run win.

Sri Lanka’s was a complete performance, probably their best of the tournament so far. They appear to be a team peaking at exactly the right time, and if they replicate today’s performance again in the final they will be very hard for either Australia or South Africa to beat. New Zealand meanwhile have a long gap before their next international match, and will spend the next few months reflecting on one of their worst performances in recent times. It was a match in which everyone had a terrible day at the same time, at the worst possible time.

Sri Lanka 289-5
Mahela Jayawardene 115 no, Upul Tharanga 73
James Franklin 2-46, Daniel Vettori 1-51

New Zealand 208 all out
Peter Fulton 46, Scott Styris 37
Muttiah Muralitharan 4-31, Tillakaratne Dilshan 2-22

Sri Lanka won by 81 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Match: Mahela Jayawardene – 115 not out.

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