The Colombo sky was ablaze with fireworks last night as Sri Lanka fought their way over murky waters and into the World Cup final, giving their legend Muttiah Muralidaran a fitting farewell from international cricket. The five-wicket win was not an easy ride, thanks to a late rally by New Zealand at the flashbulb-laden R Premadasa Stadium, but it was closer than imagined after Sri Lanka’s dominance for the first third of the game.
Thilan Samaraweera’s outside edge between the wicketkeeper and slip off the fifth ball of the 48th over took the proud Lankans through to the final in Mumbai on April 2, their opponents being either of the two bitter rivals India or Pakistan. It will be the first all-Asian final at the World Cup.
It will be Muralidaran’s last game in Sri Lankan colours after he had announced his retirement a month before the World Cup and this semifinal was in fact his last game on home soil. The Sri Lanka team ran a lap of the field in Muralidaran’s honour, and the man himself came out to acknowledge the cheers from his adoring countrymen.
The home side were riding comfortably on the back of Tilakaratne Dilshan’s Evil Kneivel-like innings but lost their way from being 160 for 1 in the 33rd over to 185 for five in the 43rd.
A limping Angelo Mathews came to the rescue, hitting a crucial six and four off Tim Southee in the 47th over, the pair of them adding 35 for the sixth wicket as Sri Lanka entered their second consecutive final and third overall.
“I think we have done a great job today. I never had any doubts because I thought we were going to win it, the pressure was on though,” said Matthews immediately after the game.
Fireworks stopped play when Samaraweera had blasted the ball through the covers, only realising that Aleem Dar had called it a dead ball.
Sri Lanka were in cruise control in their chase of 218 runs with Dilshan hammering a no-nonsense 73 off 93 balls with the help of ten boundaries and a six. He sliced one to Jesse Ryder off Tim Southee, before New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori trapped Mahela Jayawerdane in the next over and Kumar Sangakkara, on 54 off 79 balls, hit an Andy McKay short ball straight down Scott Styris’s throat at third man in the 37th over. Earlier, New Zealand were bowled out for 217 in 48.5 overs.
Sri Lanka required another 49 runs off 78 balls when the report was last filed.
Vettori was leading a futile charge until Southee’s breakthrough, the fielding of his side much better than what the bowlers were doing till that point. But the three quick wickets brought back the slips as the Kiwis gained strength.
Dilshan hammered his second fifty in the tournament, in addition to his two centuries, making him the tournament top-scorer with 467 runs. His innings was reminiscent of the 57-ball 96 he hit against West Indies in the semifinal of the 2009 World Twenty20s where also the Lankans rode on his bat to clinch a spot in the final.
Alongside skipper Kumar Sangakkara, he added 120 for the second wicket after Ryder, at point, caught Upul Tharanga acrobatically for 30. Tharanga, who hammered four boundaries and a six in his 31-ball knock, did all the running at the start as New Zealand’s bowling could not find a way through the two openers until Ryder’s solo effort.
But then it was the Dilshan show as the 34-year-old gave the Kiwis a fine lesson of where not to bowl at him. No bad ball was let go as Sri Lanka raced at a higher rate after Tharanga’s dismissal. Sangakkara also reached a half-century off 72 balls.
In the afternoon session, New Zealand had made a cautious start after electing to bat first as Muralidaran appeared for the last time on home soil for Sri Lanka. The legend removed the dangerous Jesse Ryder for 19, prompting Sangakkara to bring back Malinga, who had earlier bowled just the first over of the innings, two overs later.
Martin Guptill had built his innings serenely for 39 off 65 balls before a Malinga special, a toe-crushing yorker, sent him back. Scott Styris and Ross Taylor had to kickstart the innings from 84 for three in the 22nd over, the experienced pair adding 77 for the fourth wicket in good time as New Zealand built up a good resistance.
Sangakkara gave the batsmen little respite and in the middle of one of his rapid bowling changes, a half-tracker from Mendis found Taylor pulling one straight down Tharanga’s throat at deep mid-wicket. A rapid 31-run stand followed between Styris and Kane Williamson, the latter falling leg-before to Malinga for a 16-ball 22. Styris remained for a little more, reaching his 28th ODI fifty as New Zealand were still on course of a big total when Sangakkara brought Muralidaran back for his final spell on home soil.
His eighth and ninth over yielded 19 runs with Williamson chipping one beautifully over extra-cover. His final over drew all the attention and as if on cue, he darted one back at Styris, appealed and got the decision. There was a little wait but moments later, Muralidaran had taken a last wicket off his last ball on Lankan soil, finishing the day with figures of 2-42.
The Kiwis in fact hads lost their last six wickets for just 25 runs after being placed at an ominous 192-4 in the 44th over, but Mendis, Muralidaran and Malinga gave them little room to work with.
Malinga and Mendis picked up three wickets each, Mendis finishing with 3-35 from 9.5 overs, while Rangana Herath and Dilshan took a wicket each in efficient spells.
Courtesy of The Daily Star