As expected, hot favorites Sri Lanka fought back well to beat New Zealand by five wickets in the first semis to storm into ICC 2011 World Cup finals at Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
It was Tillakaratne Dilshan (73 off 93 balls) and captain Kumar Sangakkara (54 off 79 balls) who fought back well to build an useful partnership to ensure their team a five-wicket victory. New Zealand defended a modest total of 217 all out till the 47th over, but was short by about 30 runs in the end, as the Lions went through with 13 balls to spare, despite some middle order jitters.
Chasing the moderate target of 215, Sri Lankan openers looked confident and gave a flying start. However, the disciplined attack of New Zealand picked up wickets to put Lankans on the back-foot.
Earlier, Sri Lanka speedster Lasith Malinga took three wickets and Muttiah Muralitharan took a wicket with his very last ball on home soil to restrict New Zealand to an unconvincing 217 in 48.5 overs.. Scott Styris was the only New Zealander to stand out as he hit 57 in 77 balls.
The 38-year-old Muralitharan, in his last match in Sri Lanka before retiring, finished with 2-42. Muralitharan, who has been struggling with hamstring and thigh injuries, will play in the final.
The 35,000-strong crowd chanted “Murali, Murali” as he bowled his last ball and were sent into ecstasy when he dismissed Styris with his very last ball. New Zealand made a confident start, with openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum hitting the ball sweetly. McCullum struck a huge six to midwicket before falling clean bowled by spinner Rangana Herath attempting the same shot in the eighth over with the total at 32. Guptill and hard-hitting Jesse Ryder added 37 before Muralitharan struck, inducing some bounce from the placid wicket that was also used for Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over England. The bounce surprised Ryder, who had been shaping to cut but only succeeded in top edging to Sangakkara. Ryder had scored 19 in 34 balls and had looked comfortable until he tried to break free of the shackles attached by the disciplined Sri Lankan bowling.
Ross Taylor and Styris then produced the partnership of the innings, putting on 77 in 17.4 overs. Taylor was unusually subdued while the 35-year-old Styris, playing his 188th One-Day International, was the more aggressive, reaching his 50 in 64 balls. Taylor, whose explosive hitting took New Zealand to victory over Pakistan in the group stage, decided to accelerate the score in the 40th over and immediately fell, caught in the deep by Upul Tharanga from the bowling of spinner Ajantha Mendis from a miscued slog-sweep. Taylor scored 36 in 55 balls and New Zealand was 164-4 after 40 overs, but the last six wickets tumbled for 25 runs as the Black Caps lost their way. After Taylor departed, Malinga took the wickets of Nathan McCullum and Kane Williamson and Mendis’s average bowling was flattered by two late wickets that gave him figures of 3-35. Malinga was more expensive, with 3-55, but he tamed the pick of the New Zealand batting.
Sri Lanka will now take on the winner of India-Pakistan semi-final match being played tomorrow at Mohali. The finals will played at Mumbai.