Colombo: On an early humid evening, another famous international career was all but brought to an end as Muttiah Muralitharan waved a cap to say goodbye to his adoring Sri Lanka fans at the World Cup semi-final.
As he walked from the Premadasa Stadium oval for the last time to the dancing and jiving of the packed Khettarama venue at the dinner break, he had helped the hosts reduce New Zealand to a less than challenging 217. And as they didn’t even get to bat through the 50 overs, this will be of concern to coach John Wright how the lower order has capitulated in the last three games.
It was always thought to be a total that was 40 to 50 runs short of a challenging target to set Sri Lanka in their a bid to reach a second consecutive World Cup final; this time they face a different side to that which they lost in Barbados in 2007 with Australia falling to India in the quarterfinal at Ahmedabad.
Muralitharan, doubtful before the game because of an a slight hamstring twinge, ended with two for 42 with the wickets of Jesse Ryder and Scott Styris to add to his World Cup tally. He was later chaired around part of the ground by his teammates.
Sri Lanka’s win by five wickets was not without jitters when they lost three wickets in a matter of 26 balls with Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara falling, the Kiwis may have even thought of a repeat of their shock Dhaka win over South Africa. This is where Daniel Vettori, also playing his last ODI as a player and captain, would have felt some chagrin at the low total.
He admitted as much at the post-match media conference when he said the lower-order failed to capitalise on the partnership that Ross Taylor and Scott Styris pulled together for the fourth wicket, adding 77 before Taylor’s hapless dismissal.
Sri Lanka, however, reaching their second successive World Cup final would feel a lot more comfortable with their position as they head for Mumbai and the final with the game turning out to be a lot tougher and tighter than Sangakkara, and man of the match would have liked, and agreed how the game was a lot tougher than he would have liked.
With the rapid departure of three wickets, the dancing and singing in the stands stopped for a while. There was a tense atmosphere as Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva battled against the bowling of Vettori whose removal of Jayawardene for one to an lbw decision and the next delivery almost taking out Silva, brought unexpected nervous jitters to the middle-order.
Up to that point, apart from the departure of Upul Tharanga to a superb catch by Jesse Ryder off the bowling of Tim Southee, the Sri Lanka batting followed that of Saturday’s quarterfinal against England.
The pitch was not as easy to bat on as it had been, although the strokeplay by Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, showed the form they were in, adding 120 in their partnership to lay the foundation for the victory total of 220 or five.
The thought of a nine-wicket victory did loom until Dilshan, going on the cut aimed a catch at Ryder to give the Kiwis a faint sniff. When Jayawardene fell with the first ball of the 34th over, there as the thought how Sri Lanka’s wobbly middle-order would struggle.
This was more so when Andy McKay collected the Sri Lanka captain’s wicket when he played an uppercut only for Scott Styris to take the catch.
It was a matter of how the batting would handle the pressure with Angelo Mathews making the most of some indifferent bowling by Ryder. This is also where the visitors, having to fly in from Bangladesh by Sri Lanka rested at home, were unable to pull off the victory needed to earn them a World Cup final place.
There was also the farcical end to the game where McKay, bowling to Samaraweera was put off by the premature setting off of fireworks – a totally amateurish effort by authorities – and the ball that the batsman had blitzed for a boundary was called dead ball by Aleem Dar.
While Mathews, batting with Jayawardene as a runner, hammered a four and a six off Southee’s bowling to help close in on the target, there was a thought how Vettori may have bowled himself out in terms of his overs too soon and so lessen the pressure after Sangakkara’s departure.
Vettori’s decision to bat first needed more support from the lower order than he received, as the last five wickets tumbled for only 13 runs in a matter of four overs. Not at all what they needed to make a challenging total. It was mixture of injudicious batting and careless attention to detail.
Such was the capitulation the lessons of the Wankhede defeat had not been learnt despite the claims by the coach John Wright and the comments by Ross Taylor whose own dismissal brought about the lower-order demise. His attempt to pull the Ajantha Mendis delivery over midwicket failed the gain the elevation he needed to clear the boundary.
From that point the innings went into sudden decline with wickets falling at such a rate, a shuttle service was needed between the wicket at the pavilion with Nathan McCullum and Jacob Oram going for big hits but failing to make full use of the elevation and clear what is a big outfield.
While Martin Guptill always looked at ease until bowled by a searing yorker and Ryder needed to display the patience of his innings against South Africa, the Taylor/Styris partnership did much to restore the equilibrium until Taylor’s error in misjudging the midwicket boundary on the scoreboard side of the ground.
From that point, the innings went into decline, despite 41 runs being scored in the batting powerplay for the loss of two wickets.
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