Sri Lanka reached the World Cup final with a five-wicket win against New Zealand as veteran off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan said goodbye to his home crowd.
Set a modest 218 to win, Sri Lanka wobbled in the middle before reaching their target with Tillakaratne Dilshan (73) and captain Kumar Sangakkara (54) setting the foundation. Muralitharan took his 534th wicket off his last ball on home soil as New Zealand were bowled out for a below-par score of 217.
Sangakkara paying rich tribute to the off-spinner, said he was an icon for Sri Lanka.
“It was the last game for Murali in Sri Lanka and we wanted to give him a good send-off,” he said. “Murali is the icon of Sri Lanka, on the field, off the field, a fantastic human being and a great team man.”
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori blamed his team’s batting for the loss.
“The top order really set it up but we missed out by not capitalising,” said Vettori. “I think that’s where we lost the game. We’ve been an outstanding fielding side all tournament, we fought hard but it wasn’t enough today.”
Sri Lanka, cruising along at 160 for one, lost four wickets for 25 runs to raise fears of an upset before Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews guided them home. The victory took the hosts into their second successive World Cup final, after finishing runners-up in 2007.
New Zealand staged a brave rearguard action. The openers took the hosts to 40 by the eighth over before Upul Tharanga fell after scoring a 31-ball 30 with four boundaries and a six.
Dilshan then added 120 for the second wicket with Sangakkara, before the opener was dismissed by Tim Southee. The hosts then lost Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara in the space of eight runs and then Chamara Silva (13) before the team held their nerve.
Mendis, Malinga restrict Kiwis
Earlier, Ajantha Mendis (three for 35) and Lasith Malinga (three for 55), along with Muralitharan (two for 42), kept New Zealand under control after Daniel Vettori won the toss and opted to bat. Scott Styris, who top-scored with 57, added 77 for the fourth wicket with Ross Taylor (36) but the hosts never allowed them to run away with a big total.
Styris and Kane Williamson (22) added 42 in the Powerplay but New Zealand lost their last seven wickets for just 56 runs. Martin Guptill (39) and Jesse Ryder (19) took the total to 69 before Muralitharan had Ryder caught off a quickish delivery. New Zealand never recovered from the shock and with the hosts knowing the conditions well, it was almost a smooth ride into the final for them.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2011.