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Sri Lanka turned in a professional performance to beat New Zealand by six wickets in a Super Eights match at the World Cup on Thursday.
In notching their fourth straight victory, they ended the Kiwis' unbeaten run in the tournament and virtually sealed a place in the semi-finals.
After Chaminda Vaas (3-33) and Muthiah Muralitharan (3-32) restricted New Zealand to 219 for 7 with some fine bowling, Sanath Jayasuriya (64) and Kumar Sangakkara (69 not out) scored half-centuries to guide the Sri Lankans home with 29 balls to spare.
New Zealand, who won the toss and chose to bat, struggled early in their innings before Scott Styris's undefeated 111 steadied them to a respectable total.
New Zealand innings
For a while, after Stephen Fleming won the toss and elected to bat, it seemed as though Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Sangakkara were playing with each other, while the Kiwi batsmen and the rest of the Sri Lankan fielders looked on.
The veteran seamer, with responsibilities doubled by the absence of Lasith Malinga, produced an incredible spell of intelligent seam bowling, using the angles, lengths and movement either way to tie the batsmen up in knots.
Stephen Fleming, who seems unable to buy a run against Sri Lanka, went off the fifth ball of the innings to a typical Vaas dismissal. After beating the batsman with deliveries leaving the bat, Vaas bent one back in; Fleming played for it to leave him and was trapped in front (0/4; 1/1).
In his next over, Vaas reversed the plan and took Taylor out. Taylor was primed for the delivery to cut back into him seeking the LBW. Vaas went the other way, seaming the ball away from the right hander; Taylor played for it to come back and as the ball left him, got the edge and went through to Sangakkara, who dived one heck of a long way and grabbed a stunner (0/2; 4/2).
Scott Styris and Peter Fulton had to dig deep to survive, as Vaas produced every trick in the seam bowler's trade to torment the batsmen (his analysis after five overs read 3-2-1-2). Malinga, or another quality seamer, at the other end could have magnified the batting side's problems; the Kiwis got away thanks largely to an underwhelming performance by Fervez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando, neither of whom could produce the accuracy, and movement, needed to trouble top batsmen. To compound the problem, both pitched short way too often on what was a good batting deck, and kept getting creamed.
Even so, Styris, then batting 8/27, could have gone in the 11th over. He pushed Maharoof out on the on and took off for the single; the desperation in the running stemming from the fact that the Kiwis were a mere 18/2 at the 10 over mark.
Murali raced in from mid on, and picked up the ball with Styris still less than halfway across the pitch; he took his time, lined it up, threw, and missed.
In the 16th over, Fulton attempted to work Fernando off his pads, and got the leading edge to Mahela Jayawardene at midwicket; this time, the batsman was saved by a marginal no ball call.
And in the 18th over, Vaas made one leave the batsman that Styris attempted to paddle. The ball clearly slid off the bat face � the click was audible even through the stump mikes, and umpires in this tournament are wired for sound. Yet, when the ball stuck in Sangakkara's pads and the keeper and bowler appealed ferociously, Styris stood there shaking his head, and umpire Billy Doctrove went with the batsman and turned the appeal down.
In between these incidents � which seemed to get some of the Sri Lankan fielders steamed up, and needed Jayawardene's intervention to cool tempers -- Styris and Fulton played with considerable sense, taking their own time to settle in and when the bowlers, especially the two seamers rotating at the end opposite Vaas, erred, they hit with authority and purpose to repeatedly find the boundaries.
Mahela found himself in a bit of a trap � to keep the pressure going at least until the spinners could be brought in, he had to bowl Vaas for an extended spell, each successive over depriving him of that much from his star bowler at the death.
The gamble paid off, in a sense, when in the 20th over, Vaas bowled the slower one on off and middle. Fulton came onto the front foot, flicked, and picked out Chamara Silva at deep square leg (28/54; 71/3).
Jayawardene likes using Jayasuriya for two or three overs, ahead of Muralitharan, once the power plays are done. Here, conscious perhaps that another wicket would nail the Kiwis to the mast, he reversed direction and brought on his champion spinner in the 21st; Murali promptly went around the wicket to the two right-handers, with slip and a short leg up close and catching.
And at the other end, Vaas (8-2-17-3) ended an amazing spell, making way for Jayasuriya. The Lankan game plan, clearly, was to make the Kiwi batsmen come to them, while relying on tight bowling and aggressive fielding to make things difficult.
McMillan likes to dominate from the moment he walks out � but against Murali, that is easily said. With the second ball of his second over, the offie served up a teaser � tossed well up, on middle and on length. It was the typical Murali offering � at a superficial level it invited you to take your chances on a big hit; it held the veiled threat, too, that if you missed, you were a dead duck on the LBW.
McMillan went for the sweep, the ball turned, it bounced, it took the top edge and Chamara Silva, this time at short fine leg, jogged to his left and held well (1/7; 77/4).
At the halfway mark, the Kiwis are struggling. Needing a good 250 or more to put pressure on the Lankan batting, they now face the far less ambitious task of batting through the full quota of overs. Confronting them are the Lankan spinners and fielders, operating with the increasingly softer ball, and taking the pace right off to ensure the batsmen have to do all the heavy lifting.
New Zealand progression: 1-25 overs
5 overs: 4/2 @ 0.80 (Styris 0/11; Fulton 3/13)
10 overs: 18/2 @ 1.80 (Styris 8/26; Fulton 9/28)
15 overs: 42/2 @ 2.80 (Styris 22/43; Fulton 19/41)
20 overs: 71/3 @ 3.55 (Styris 39/62; McMillan 0/1)
25 overs: 86/4 @ 3.48 (Styris 49/79; Oram 4/7)
Getting runs out of the Sri Lanka spinners and fielders is marginally tougher than wringing blood out of stone -- and the degree of difficulty doubles if the seamers have struck early.
Mahela Jayawardene handled it perfectly -- through the middle overs, he rotated his three spinners Jayasuriya, Dilshan and Muralitharan, using the last named as the attacking option. Other aspects of the captaincy were interesting: Jayasuriya, for instance, was trusted to bowl a long spell without giving the batsmen anything; the younger Dilshan was rotated every three overs or so, his ends being switched so the batsmen couldn't really settle against him. Mahela also felt confident enough to give his spinners close catching positions.
For all the pushing, bustling around and occasionally desperate running, the Kiwis couldn't push the run rate up to even a decent 4 per � clearly, one of the bowlers had to be targeted.
Oram elected Dilshan. In the 38th over, the batsman jumped down to the first ball, simultaneously moving to leg to make room, and hoisted the ball over the long on boundary.
Two deliveries later, Oram tried for an encore. Dilshan appeared to have spotted the intent: he dragged the ball down shorter, and took the pace off. Oram was committed and went through with the shot; the bottom hand came off the handle, the top hand shoveled the ball high in the air, where it hung for an eternity while Maharoof circled around underneath it. The ball finally came down, and Maharoof held on for dear life -- an outfield catch that took some judging (31/45; 141/5).
In the very next over, Mahela put a slip and silly point near Brendan McCullum. Murali went around the wicket -- it's almost getting predictable now, to right handers, but thus far no one appears to have worked out a counter -- and straightened one with the arm. McCullum looked to push the ball away on the on, to keep it out of reach of the close catchers on the off side; he missed, the ball struck pad and the appeal was upheld.
McCullum seemed unhappy -- but that could be because he thought the Sri Lankans were appealing for a catch at silly point (1/4; 145/6).
In his next over, Murali took out Daniel Vettori with a flighted delivery angling across the left hander. Vettori swept, top edged, and was caught easily at deep midwicket (5/7; 155/7).
The Kiwis by now had revised their ambitions -- surviving 50 overs took precedence over run-making, even, and if that goal meant Dilshan was allowed to bowl a maiden as late as the 46th over, then so be it.
Franklin produced a rare moment of Kiwi aggression when, in the 48th over, he hoisted Dilshan high over the long off boundary for the second six of the innings. Some intelligent taps and electric-heeled running produced 14 in the over -- the most expensive of the innings, and the first time since the 16th over when any bowler gave away 10 or more.
The attack was so spin centric that Mahela did not feel the need to bowl out Vaas. Fernando came on in the 49th, and with Styris on 98, kept the batsman fretting with a stream of reversing yorkers. Finally, the batsman climbed into the fourth ball, a trifle short, and pummeled it to the midwicket boundary to bring up his fourth ODI century (100/151). Styris was very lucky to have survived a caught behind off Murali, but that blemish apart, had shown the character needed to 'keep his head while all around him were losing theirs'.
Vaas bowled the 50th over -- and was clearly unprepared; his normal control deserted him, and he gave away five wides down the leg side to start things off; it ended with Styris lofting him to the long on boundary off the last ball of the innings, to seal a 64 run partnership in 56 balls that provided some momentum at the very death, and took New Zealand to 219/7 in the allotted 50 overs.
On balance, the Kiwis struggled throughout their innings before finally getting a grip in the final five overs (40 runs came from those). For Sri Lanka, it is not an out of reach target -- the threat of Shane Bond remains, but without a huge asking rate confronting them, they have the luxury of being able to play safe against the premier quick.
Muralitharan and Vaas � the experienced pros -- were the standouts for Lanka, with each claiming three wickets and both being unlucky not to get at least one apiece. Fernando did a great job as well, his 7 overs producing a mere 31 and keeping the pressure up when it was needed.
The game, here on, could hinge on one crucial confrontation: Bond, versus Jayasuriya. And that could be a match up to see.
Progression: 26-50 overs
30 overs: 112/4 @ 3.61 (Oram 14/23; Styris 62/99)
35 overs: 132/4 @ 3.66 (Oram 24/39; Styris 71/114)
40 overs: 154/6 @ 3.85 (Styris 79/124; 5/6)
45 overs: 175/7 @ 3.88 (Styris 93/143; Franklin 7/10)
50 overs: 219/7 @ 4.38 (Styris 111/157; Franklin 25/27)
Sri Lanka innings
The real test of New Zealand's side, strongly favored for the semi-finals and more, actually began today.
After a succession of easy games, Stephen Fleming's Black Caps find themselves going up, in successive games, against the three fellow favorites for the last four: Sri Lanka today, then South Africa over the weekend, and finally Australia.
With eight points from four games before this one, they are joint top with Australia, and have the better run rate -- but the Kiwis' best hope of making the last four is to win one of these three games.
Against that, there is a body of opinion that suggests the Kiwis, hugely impressive thus far, will come to grief against the best sides -- and that opinion got a bit of a boost from the events of today, first with the bat when they struggled throughout the first 45 innings against good seam and spin, and only saved their blushes thanks to a late charge by Scott Styris and James Franklin.
Franklin, whose cameo helped Styris provide an element of respectability to the total, however gave it away at the start of the chase. The Kiwis needed to bowl and field with exemplary application to make a defense of the small total feasible; the fourth ball of the innings however kicked off length, and sailed well over the head of keeper Brendan McCullum to the boundary for four byes. The next ball was so wide down the leg side, it again beat the keeper, and went through to add five wides to the total.
Franklin has a habit of getting migraines in mid game. The way the first over was shaping, it was a safe bet his skipper would be the one suffering.
The Kiwis' problems got worse in the next over, when Shane Bond tried to rattle Sanath Jayasuriya with a bouncer. It was a great ball � kicking off just back of length at top pace. The batsman ducked and turned his back, the ball clipped his shoulder, then flew over the slips for four leg byes. Bond sent the ball down short and wide, and for Jayasuriya, the crashing cut through point off such deliveries is almost a Pavlovian response.
The first ball of the third over saw Upul Tharanga flashing; he got the toe edge and the ball landed in front of McCullum, eluding him and sliding down to the third man fence. The keeper's misery was complete when, later in the over, he back pedaled to try and collect a throw from the deep, crashed into the stumps, and came within a toucher of impaling himself on them.
Stephen Fleming might have been tempted to give his bowler and keeper a mouthful, but then he was doing no better. In the 5th over, Fleming in a good bit of captaincy took himself out of the slips and placed himself at a shortish square point. Franklin bowled the full length outside off inviting the slash, Tharanga obliged, and Fleming could only palm the ball away. In the 10th over, Mark Gillespie got Jayasuriya lofting over short midwicket. Fleming, by now fielding in that position, jumped but again, could only palm the ball away, goal-keeper like. To be fair, this was a tougher chance, but the Kiwis have in earlier games set such high standards in the field, that it had to be put down as a drop.
By way of rounding off a miserable first half in the field, Bond got Sangakkara mishitting a well disguised slower ball, and thus time it was Craig McMillan, again at short midwicket, who jumped, got his right hand to the ball, and ended up palming it away.
New Zealand's lone success came in the 5th over when Franklin bowled one short and outside off. It deserved stick, and Tharanga gave it all he had. The ball screamed off the bat face, and seemed to be looping over the head of Shane Bond, several yards inside the rope at third man. Bond back-pedaled, timed his jump to a nicety, held, and dived backwards to complete a stunner (11/20; 30/1).
Jayasuriya and Sangakkara then settled in to take the game away, in their own differing styles. Sangakkara, the more classical of the two, produced an exquisite cover drive, going low on one knee to get into the stroke and hitting it with fluid grace. That shot apart, he preferred to progress through singles, concentrating for the most part on turning the strike over to his more flamboyant partner.
Jayasuriya had his initial struggles against Bond, but seemed even as he played and missed to be holding himself back, waiting for the opportune moment. To his way of thinking, that came in the 9th over, when Franklin was taken off and Gillespie, playing his first serious game after recovering from injury, came on.
The very first ball the bowler sent down was a touch short and on the pads. Jayasuriya jumped on it with both feet, rocking back and pulling savagely for a six behind square leg. The second ball was going down leg; Jayasuriya flicked it away to fine leg for the ritual boundary. The fourth ball was fuller in length on off, and Jayasuriya this time came forward, used his bottom hand to great effect, and blasted it over mid on for four more.
Fleming rotated his bowlers rapidly (he had used six of them by the 20 over mark), held back a power play, and tried innovative field positions, but the Lankans by the 10th over had the bit well between their teeth, and began coasting towards the target with increasing ease. Neither batsman tried to really push the pedal to the floor; as a glance at the overs progression below will tell you, they didn't need to -- even in second gear, they were well ahead of the asking rate.
It seemed as though the two experienced batsmen had decided to cut out risks, and try and do the job themselves -- even Jayasuriya, after going at his usual strike rate early on, settled down to nudge and nurdle with calm purpose. Even at half pace, his 50 -- three fours, one six -- took a mere 65 balls to achieve; typically, he celebrated by slamming Scott Styris' second ball of the next over up and over midwicket for four more.
When, in the 25th over, the normally reliable Jacob Oram made the most horrible meal at third man of a late cut by Jajasuriya, and helped it over the rope, it pretty much summed up the situation -- and the New Zealander's day. Sri Lanka need a mere 92 in the second half of the innings, with 9 wickets in hand, and it will take a humongous miracle to stop them getting there.
Progression: Overs 1-25
5 overs: 32/1 @ 6.40 (Jayasuriya 5/8; Sangakkara 2/2); Required rate 4.17
10 overs: 66/1 @ 6.60 (Jayasuriya 27/26; Sangakkara 11/15); Required rate 3.85
15 overs: 90/1 @ 6.00 (Jayasuriya 42/44; Sangakkara 19/28); Required rate 3.71
20 overs: 106/1 @ 5.30 (Jayasuriya 48/57; Sangakkara 28/46); Required rate 3.80
25 overs: 128/1 @ 5.12 (Jayasuriya 63/78; Sangakkara 34/56)
Overs 26 - 46
For a brief period, in the second half of the Sri Lankan chase, New Zealand saw daylight peering through the clouds.
In the 26th over, Jacob Oram bowled what at most times would have been a gimme -- a length ball wide of off, that invited the cut. Jayasuriya went for the shot, but seemed a touch over-eager to demolish it; he ended up over-hitting the ball and McCullum, even in the midst of a personal nightmare, did well to hold (64/80; 130/2).
Daniel Vettori got into the act with a ball short and on a wicket to wicket line. Mahela Jayawardene, who appeared to have walked out with positive intent, went to pull, but mishit the shot to Hamish Marshall, substituting at midwicket (15/21; 152/3).
You couldn't fault Fleming for seizing on the two quick wickets to introduce his third power play, in the 33rd over -- but it's difficult to find too many positives for his giving the ball to Franklin in the 35th. At that point, the Kiwis had managed to build a bit of pressure; runs weren't coming easily and though the Sri Lankans were well ahead of the ask, there was a new life to the Kiwi fielders, and the batsmen appeared to be fretting just a touch.
Then Franklin took the ball, and Silva broke the situation open. The second ball, full outside off, saw the batsman leaning onto the front foot, waiting on the ball and playing an elegant drive through extra cover. Franklin compensated by bowling the next on middle; Silva adjusted by moving to off, taking the line on his pads, and flicking over square leg. The next ball was in the channel, very close to off; Silva stayed back and, just as the ball was passing him, got cute, running it off the bat face to third man.
Fleming kept Franklin on, and Silva in his next over smoothly eased onto the back foot to convert length, and cracked another four, through point.
Just when it seemed like Silva could have powered Lanka home and in the process done the net run rate a bit of good, he gave it away, waltzing down the track in the 38th over to Vettori, looking to go over the top and managing only to hit it down the throat of Bond at long off. Vettori had done well to hold the ball back a touch, spotting the batsman coming down and adjusting quickly (23/34; 180/4).
Sangakkara, who in recent times has been the voice for the team, was so miffed, he gave Silva a earful as the batsman walked past en route to the pavilion. And just to make sure new man in Tillekeratne Dilshan didn't do a Silva, Sangakkara gave him a talking to before he had even taken guard.
Dilshan obediently cut out the flash, and settled down with his senior partner to take Sri Lanka to the target, one easy single after another. New Zealand just didn't have the runs to force the batting side into taking risks; the inevitable win was sealed, via a Sangakkara boundary, in the 46th over, Sri Lanka going past the line with overs, and six wickets, to spare.
It was a professional, planned performance by the Sri Lankans, and the Kiwis, who opted for first strike voluntarily, have only their own ineptness at the top of the order to blame. What is noteworthy is that Sri Lanka did not have the services of Lasith Malinga, yet turned in an almost immaculate performance with the ball.
Another factor that is emerging to worry potential opponents is this: Batting second against the Lankans is a dangerous ploy, given their lineup of one quality spinner and two highly competent supporting acts, backed up by great fielding. But if you then opt to bat first, the likes of Vaas and Malinga prove a handful.
Looked at another way, Lanka is gradually emerging as an all-weather team, capable of going much further in this competition.
Progression: 26-45 overs
30 overs: 150/2 @ 5.00 (Sangakkara 40/70; Jayawardene 15/14); Required rate 3.50
35 overs: 172/3 @ 4.91 (Sangakkara 43/77; Chamara Silva 17/21); Required rate 3.20
40 overs: 187/4 @ 4.67 (Sangakkara 50/86; Dilshan 2/8); Required rate 3.30
45 overs: 218/4 @ 4.84 (Sangakkara 65/103; Dilshan 14/24); Required rate 0.40The Cup: Complete Coverage
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