The undefeated Black Caps have come a cropper against a better opposition in the ever energetic Sri Lanka. In the much awaited Super Eights clash at the National Stadium in St George’s, the Kiwis were stuck by some crucial breakthroughs which saw them post a moderate 219. The Lankans got to the target with six wickets in hand and with 29 balls to spare. The New Zealand attack looked very thin with only Shane Bond looking close to being penetrative.
On a good batting track at Grenada, Stephen Fleming decided to bat first only to be adjudged leg before the wicket wrongly by umpire Asad Rauf in the fifth delivery of the game. Fleming gone for a nought to Chaminda Vaas with the point of impact being outside off. Ross Taylor making a comeback after his hamstring injury replaced Hamish Marshall and he was also out for a duck, caught behind brilliantly by a diving Sangakkara off the good old Chaminda. The Kiwis were 4 for 2 in the 3rd over and they were into single figures until the 9th over! So a job was done by Chaminda Vaas and his new partner Dilhara Fernando. Farveez Maharoof was the third seamer, the replacement for the injured Lasith Malinga.
When the chips are down, that is when the true character of a batsman comes out in the open. Scott Styris is one who relishes challenging situations and he stayed at the wicket importantly. He built a sound partnership of 67 with Peter Fulton, who was also taken by Vaas. The tall opening bat scored 28 from 54 before flicking one in the air and in the hands of Chamara Silva. In fact, Kiwis could have lost Styris very early but for an umpiring error that didn’t rule him out caught by the keeper after he went for a paddle sweep off Vaas. Anyway after another few deliveries of Fulton’s departure, New Zealand were stung badly by the wicket of Craig McMillan, dismissed to an adventurous sweep shot off Murali. The Kiwis were back in the dumps at 77 for 4. Another man who delivers the goods in a crisis is Jacob Oram and like Styris he fought it out in the middle. A good partnership followed with Styris which only ended in the 38th over when Oram decided it was time to get onto the top gear. The left hander jumped to Dilshan, lofted him with just the one hand, got lot of elevation, but not much of a distance to be smartly caught by Farveez Maharoof straight down the ground. The wicket came after Oram had hit the previous ball for a six over widish long on. Oram got 31 from 45 with that six to figure in a 64-run partnership with Styris.
New Zealand could have gone onto make a good score but for Murali who came up with two deadly blows that left them in an ugly situation of 155 for 7. McCullum was the first of the two blows, he was given out lbw to an off break from round the stumps. McCullum wasn’t happy with the decision from Asad Rauf, because he reckoned that the ball never hit his bat. And the reason for this was that the ball was caught at silly point and everyone around the bat were appealing for a catch and not for the lbw. There was lot of dissent shown by the New Zealand wicket keeper, who had a rare failure, making just 1. Vettori was out off a top edge in a needless sweep. Sri Lanka missed a trick here, they couldn’t bundle out the Kiwis from here as the resistance came from James Franklin while Styris was always there at one end. Eventually they made a great recovery to get to 219 for 7. Franklin staying unbeaten on 25 from 27 with a six but the hero was Scott Styris with an undefeated 4th ODI hundred. He got 111 runs, which is more than half of the New Zealand total. He batted for 157 balls to get there with 8 fours. Chaminda Vaas finished with 3 for 33 in 9 and Murali with 3 for 32 in his 10.
The opening overs from Franklin and Shane Bond were untidy ones with Sri Lanka getting 17 out of the first two overs, 13 of which had come through extras. Upul Tharanga was dropped at point by Fleming off Franklin in the 5th over, but the young left hander couldn’t capitalize on that to perish at the third man region. Tharanga played an upper cut to a rubbish short and wide one from Franklin which was taken outstandingly by Bond, who kept his balance intact although he had to fall backwards because of the momentum of the shot. Sri Lanka lost its first wicket with 30 on the board, more wickets were needed for the Kiwis, but they had to take cover as Sanath launched an onslaught. One change Mark Gillespie (playing his first World Cup match) was taken for 18 runs in his first over which spoilt the plans of Fleming. The second powerplay was forced to be held back which got Vettori into the attack soon.
Sri Lanka steadied the innings as the fielders were in the deep and Jayasuriya and Sangakkara picked up singles with ease to get the scoreboard ticking. It was only in the 31st over that New Zealand could finally taste some success with Jayasuriya chasing a wide off cutter from Oram to be caught by the keeper. It was rather late with Sri Lanka already getting 152 on board, 68 away from a win. Jayasuriya helped himself to his first fifty of the cup along with the two hundreds, he made 64 from 80 with 5 fours and a six. The next two batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva played little cameos before falling to soft dismissals, both off the bowling of Vettori. Sri Lanka did get to victory in the 46th over with Sangakkara having the honour of scoring the winning boundary. He remained right till the end to get 69 from 104 balls with 3 fours, this one being his 39th fifty. Dilshan was not out on 14. The outfield at this stadium was a sluggish one with the batsmen not getting full value to their strokes. For the first time, the New Zealand bowling looked very weak with the Bond magic not working and the support bowlers not bowling enough wicket taking deliveries. It was Chaminda Vaas who got the Man of the Match for his effective spell with the new ball. Both sides are in the Semis now and their matches now will be more to test their strengths and weakness.