The Super 8 match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand was always going to be a game to look forward to. There has been some tension between these two teams, especially after the Lankans toured New Zealand at the end of last year. The run-out of Muralitharan when he went down the pitch to congratulate Kumar Sangakkara on getting to his century, was an act that didn’t go down well. It was quite obvious that Murali wasn’t trying to steal a run, but in his excitement had forgotten that the ball was still ‘live’ and in play.
McCullum taking the bails off and Stephen Fleming sticking with the appeal showed a new face of New Zealand cricket, one which was going to play hard and ruthlessly in attempting to win every possible advantage for the side. So there has been a fair bit of needle in the Sri Lanka and New Zealand matches.
New Zealand would have fancied their chances in the absence of Lasith Malinga, who has troubled them in the past. But it was the old warhorse Chaminda Vaas who rocked them with his burst of three top-order wickets. Vaas is now more a military medium pacer, but he gets the ball to swing late and causes problems to the batsmen. With skipper Fleming and young Taylor being consumed for ducks, Scott Styris had to do a holding operation. Unfortunately, he had little support and with wickets falling regularly, the only partnership of note was the one with Oram. That 64-run partnership took 15 overs and put New Zealand on the back foot. Only a late flurry by Styris and Franklin who added 64 in a little over 9 overs helped the Kiwis get past 200.
It was never going to be enough, for all Sri Lanka needed to do was bat sensibly without taking any undue risks. It was also important from the Sri Lankan point of view to have Sangakkara play a long innings, for he has not quite done justice to his talent as a batsman. Perhaps the dual responsibility of heaping wickets and batting as high as No. 3 is taking a toll of his energies. In this game, with these being no extra pressure of trying to maintain a big scoring rate since the asking rate was a little over four runs an over, Sangakarra could play himself in. Jayasuriya also batted without taking risks and that partnership sealed the game for the Lankans, even though they lost Jayawardene early and later the impressive Chamara Silva failed to capitalize on a good start. Sri Lanka of course have a cool experienced hand in Dilshan, and with Sangakarra staying till the winning runs came, there was no need for any nerves or tension in the dressing room.
It was a most impressive win and pretty much assures Sri Lanka of a place in the semifinals. For New Zealand though, this defeat makes it hard to get to the No. 1 position for the semifinals as they still have to play the Australians, though there is little danger to their chances of qualifying for the series. It does look as if the fight for the fourth place is now going to be between South Africa and England.