COLOMBO, (Reuters) – Sri Lanka advanced to the World Cup final for the third time today after stopping New Zealand from pulling off their second upset of the tournament.
Sri Lanka, set a modest 218 for victory, were cruising at 160 for one but lost quick wickets before recovering to win by five wickets with 13 balls to spare.
The 1996 champions will play the winners of Wednesday’s semi-final between Pakistan and India in Mumbai on Saturday.
“The pressure was building a bit,” Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said at the victory presentation. “We lost quick wickets.
“All credit to the bowlers, we had a loose period in the middle but we managed to pull it back. The score was heading towards 240, we managed to keep it to 220.
“Our fast bowlers have been performing and on our tracks our variety is very hard for the opposition to face.”
New Zealand, who defeated South Africa in a similar situation in the quarter-finals, have now reached the semi-finals six times without advancing further.
“We lost too many wickets at the end,” said captain Daniel Vettori, who will now relinquish the captaincy after four years in charge. “We scrapped very hard and gave ourselves a chance at the end but we just missed out.” Sri Lanka appeared to be heading for another easy win with Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Kumar Sangakkara well set.
Dilshan’s dismissal for 73 started a mini-collapse with Mahela Jayawardene (1) and Sangakkara (54) falling in quick succession.
Angelo Mathews, batting with a runner after a thigh strain, relieved the tension with a huge six as Sri Lanka thankfully crossed the finishing line.
All-rounder Mathews, who left the field during the New Zealand innings said he would apply ice to the injury and reassess it on Wednesday.
Scott Styris anchored New Zealand’s 217 from 48.5 overs with a dogged 57 from 77 balls, before he was lbw to the last ball of Muttiah Muralitharan’s final match on home soil.
Muralitharan, 38, the world record holder for test and one-day wickets will retire after Saturday’s match.
“This was my last game at home and I got my last wicket with my last ball,” he said. “The same thing happened to me in test cricket as well. Hopefully our boys will give me a good sendoff.”
A delighted crowd at the R Premadasa Stadium, who had been temporarily silenced by their team’s collapse, applauded Muralitharan as he walked around the field after the match.
Sangakkara, who was named man of the match, acclaimed Muralitharan’s contribution to Sri Lanka.
“He is an icon of Sri Lanka as a champion on the field and off the field, as a human being and as a cricketer,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who matches him, he is a fantastic performer, he is a fantastic human being and he’s the ultimate team man.”