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A determined 111 from Skipper Kumar Sangakkara and an equally laudable performance from his bowlers gave Sri Lanka an emphatic 112 run victory over New Zealand ensuring second place for them in Group A, irrespective of the result of Australia vs. Pakistan. Sangakkara's century effort, aided by some solid support from the dependable Mahela Jayawardene, took the Lankans to 265/9, a score which was easily defended by the bowlers from the emerald island thanks to Muttiah Muralitharan's 4/25.
Sangakkara had earlier won the toss and elected to bat in the hot Mumbai conditions. Both teams made one change apiece, with Sri Lanka drafting in a second spinner in the form of Ajantha Mendis while the Kiwis brought Hamish Bennett back for the injured Kyle Mills. Daniel Vettori continued to sit out with injury and Ross Taylor led the team in Vettori's absence.
Though the pitch was expected to take turn later on, there was some early movement on offer for the faster bowlers and with Tim Southee and Jacob Oram making good use of it, the Lankans got off to a cautious start. The openers were soon back in the hutch with Upul Tharanga tragically running himself out after Southee had got a hand on a Dilshan straight drive and the latter followed soon after; getting a leading edge off Southee to be caught at third man.
Coming together at 19/2, Sangakkara and Jayawardene knew that the onus of repairing the innings was upon them and probably therefore, took a lot of time to get their eye in. With the bowlers doing a good job despite the scorching Mumbai heat, Sangakkara and Jayawardene ensured that the scoreboard kept ticking over at a brisk rate. Though Sangakkara looked to get into his groove slowly, driving Bennett and Franklin through the covers, the bowlers kept a tight leash as Sri Lanka were kept to 75/2 after 20 overs.
New Zealand could well have tightened the noose on the Lankans had the third umpire upheld Nathan McCullum's appeal for a blinder of a catch off his own bowling a few overs later. With Jayawardene only managing to chip the ball to the bowler's right, McCullum took a couple of steps before throwing himself almost parallel to the ground and latching on to what he was convinced was a catch. The third umpire though, after having a long and hard look at it, decided in favour of the batsman, a decision which left the bowler and his skipper massively disappointed.
Jayawardene, who was till then going at a strike rate of about 50%, was also dragged in to the conversation and as a result, felt the need to retaliate by scoring quickly. Starting with a sweep off McCullum in the same over, Jayawardene scored at a run-a-ball from then on to reach his fifty off 74 balls. A couple of delectable late-cuts later; Mahela finally perished in the first over of the batting powerplay, trapped in front by the impressive Southee.
Sangakkara meanwhile, was a steady presence at the other end, and once he had crossed his fifty, came up with a few lusty blows to fuel the acceleration. Once Jayawardene departed, the skipper took matters in his own hands, taking 17 runs off a Southee over before reaching the three-figure mark with a slight nudge off Oram. It was a significant knock not only in the context of the game, but also because it was Sangakkara's first century since June 2008, an innings that should give him immense belief going into the knockout stages.
The end of the powerplay though, sparked a collapse as Sangakkara was cleaned up by Nathan McCullum, before the Lankan middle-order went down in a heap. Thanks to a spunky 41 from Angelo Mathews though, who was aided by a couple of lusty blows from Malinga and Muralitharan, Sri Lanka finished with 265/9, giving themselves a fighting chance.
Chasing 266 on a turning track was always going to be tricky, and the Kiwis needed a solid opening to ensure they had a decent total on board by the time the spinners came into play. Brendon McCullum did threaten to give them that sort of an opening, but after a couple of ferocious cuts, he was done in by a superb leg-cutter from Angelo Mathews. It was Jayawardene's turn this time to take a low diving catch, and though it was referred to the third umpire, there was no doubt it had been taken cleanly.
Martin Guptill didn't last long either, and when he was caught plumb in front of the wicket by another peach of a delivery from Nuwan Kulasekara, it was down to Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor to do what the senior batsmen did to the Lankan innings. For a brief while, there was hope. The 11th over, bowled by Lasith Malinga, went for 16 runs thanks to two dropped catches that crossed the boundary rope, and for a while it looked as though the Lankans would pay heavily for their errors.
With Taylor cutting and crunching boundaries at one end, it was Ryder's wicket that handed the momentum back to Sri Lanka. Fooled by Mendis' carom ball, Ryder could only edge it to the Lankan skipper to leave his team at 82/3 and starting a procession of wickets. The level-headed Kane Williamson was then foxed by Muralitharan; who drew the batsman out of his crease before moving the ball away; and when the wily old fox got rid of Taylor himself two overs later, the game was in the bag.
Taylor referred what looked out to the naked eye, and with the height proving to be all right, the Lankans knew a victory was in sight. With the result already on the wall, Murali continued to marvel, claiming Scott Styris next, brilliantly taming the experienced campaigner who managed a lame return catch to be dismissed for 6. James Franklin hung around for a while trying to give the score some respectability though it was soon all over when Malinga clattered into the stumps of Bennett to seal a crushing 112 run victory for the Lankans.
The win took Sri Lanka to top spot in Group A, albeit temporarily. With their net run rate being better than Australia's, what it means is that Sri Lanka are now guaranteed second place in the Group and have as a result booked spot A2 in the quarter-finals. Should Australia beat Pakistan in their last game, they would finish in A1, while New Zealand would get A3 and Pakistan A4 and should the outcome of the game be reversed, then Pakistan will be A1, Australia A3 and New Zealand A4. Sri Lanka's final positioning will remain unaffected either way. The Lankans will thus play their quarter-final encounter against whichever team finishes third in Group B.
Sri Lanka 265/9 (50 overs, 5.30 rpo)
Sangakkara 111(128) Southee 3/63
Jayawardene 66 (90) Nathan McCullum 2/48
New Zealand 153 all out (35 overs, 3.57 rpo)
Taylor 33(55) Muralitharan 4/25
Franklin 20(29) Mendis 2/24
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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