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Sri Lanka in final, World Cup to return to subcontinent after 15 years

By Avishek Roy, IANS,

Colombo : The World Cup will return to the subcontinent after 15 years as Sri Lanka fought their way into the final Tuesday, beating New Zealand by five wickets. They await the winners of Wednesday’s second semifinal between India and Pakistan at Mohali.Tillakaratne Dilshan struck a belligerent half-century, which offset a mini middle-order collapse, and paved the way for Sri Lanka to enter their second successive final.

Four years ago, the 1996 champions lost to Australia, who won the cup for the third straight time and fourth overall.

Dilshan, who struck 73, shared a 40-run opening partnership with Upul Tharanga (30) and later raised 120 runs with skipper Kumar Sangakkara (54) chasing a 218-run target.

Just as the Sri Lankans looked like completing another easy victory, the Black Caps fought back to claim four wickets in quick time.

Paceman Tim Southee (3-57) took three wickets and raised an alarm in the Sri Lankan camp for a short while and in the process, overtook Zaheer Khan as the tournament’s second highest wicket-taker.

In the end, a careful Thilan Samaraweera (23) and an aggressive Angelo Mathews (14) saw Sri Lanka through with 13 balls to spare. Two lusty blows into the straightfield by Mathews, the first one clearing the boundary, settled the issue and it was time for celebrations as the Colombo skyline lit up with fireworks.

The disappointed New Zealand players, who had spoken of making their first final in six attempts, stood speechless.

Spin king Muttiah Muralitahran (2-42), who played his last ODI at home, took a lap of the ground and was greeted by the packed stands.

New Zealand would be proud of their semifinal achievement as they came to the tournament on the back of 11-match losing streak, but went on to shock South Africa in the quarterfinals.

The New Zealand innings revolved around Scott Styris, who put on 77 runs with Ross Taylor (36) in a painstaking fourth-wicket partnership. Murali dismissed Styris lbw with his last ball on his home turf amid a huge roar from the crowd. Murali acknowledged the applause by doffing his cap.

New Zealand were soon bowled out in 48.5 overs.

Sri Lanka began in a blazing fashion. Dilshan and Tharanga (30), who scored unbeaten centuries in Sri Lanka’s 10-wicket victory against England, looked as if they were resuming from where they left off in the quarterfinal. Tharanga smashed Nathan McCullum for a six off the third ball of the innings to send out a clear message as the duo added 40 off 44 balls.

Tharanga, however, fell to a brilliant one-handed catch by Jesse Ryder at point off Southee.

Dilshan and captain Kumar Sangakkara then joined hands to take the match away from New Zealand.

Dilshan hit 10 fours and a six before Ryder pouched his catch at backward point off Southee. The explosive Sri Lankan is the top scorer in the tournament with 467 runs from eight matches, which include two hundreds and two half-centuries.

After Dilshan’s fall, Sri Lanka wobbled a bit and lost two quick wickets. Daniel Vettori trapped Mahela Jayawardene lbw and Sangakkara holed out to third man Styris off Andy McKay, leaving the hitherto untested middle order to finish the job.

With two new batsmen in Samaraweera and Chamara Silva (13), Vettori attacked, bringing the field in, and Sri Lanka looked in a spot of bother. Southee cleaned up Chamara, but Samaraweera and Mathews took the team home.

The Black Caps innings, on the other hand, was left wanting for a good finish. Deciding to bat first, they looked poised for a bigger total but wickets tumbled at regular intervals. Lasith Malinga (3-55) and Ajantha Mendis (3-35), who mopped up the tail, did the demolition job.

After a sedate start, they lost three wickets for 84 and the spinners gave little away and the runs dried up.

Kane Williamson (22) played some attacking shots, but the tail could not wag and the Sri Lankans were left to chase a manageable target.