Joy for Sri Lanka, despair for South Africa
Hosts South Africa were knocked out of the World Cup in bizarre and cruel circumstances after a rain affected tie in their crunch clash against Sri Lanka at Durban on Monday night.
Sri Lanka scored an imposing 268 after a superb century from opener Marvan Atapattu and then restricted the Proteas to 229 for six in 45 overs before the soaked players were forced from the field by sheets of rain.
According to the Duckworth Lewis method used to decide weather affected matches, the scores were tied when the umpires called on the covers with South Africa needing 40 runs from the last 30 balls of the innings.
With time fast running out till the 10.45 cut off time, a slight lightening of the rain encouraged a brief burst of activity from the ground staff, cheered on by a desperate partisan crowd. But the umpires prevented the covers being hauled off and play had to be abandoned.
With the points shared between the two sides, Sri Lanka's place in the Super Sixes is confirmed and they top the Pool B table with 18 points. Kenya and New Zealand take second and third place respectively with 16 points.
Sri Lanka will not, however, carry through their maximum quota of points having suffered a shock defeat against surprise qualifiers Kenya in Nairobi.
Indeed, bizarrely, Steve Tikolo's team, by virtue of that crucial win and New Zealand's forfeiture, carry through 10 points, and possibly 11 if they defeat the West Indies, meaning they could be one upset away from a place in the semi-finals. Sri Lanka carry through 7.5 and New Zealand four.
South Africa, one of the favourites before the competition commenced, paid the penalty for earlier defeats against West Indies and New Zealand and suffer the similar ignominious exit suffered by the 1999 tournament hosts England.
Contrary to the pre-game predictions of the swing bowlers dominating the game, especially under the lights during the second innings, it was Sri Lanka's spinners that caused the most problems for South Africa's batsmen.
Herschelle Gibbs, South Africa's top scorer with 73 from 88 balls, an innings studded with some glorious pulls, nullified the threat of Chaminda Vaas's left arm swing bowling expertly.
With fellow opener Graeme Smith (35) also batting positively, the South Africans rattled along at a run-a-ball against the new ball adding 65 runs in 11.1 overs.
But Sri Lanka skipper Sanath Jayasuriya's decision to employ his spinners early brought instantaneous success as the left-hander smashed Aravinda de Silva's first ball straight down the throat of a kneeling Pulasthi Gunaratne on the mid-wicket boundary.
De Silva then mopped up Gary Kirsten (8) after the left-hander missed a sweep and was bowled behind his legs to leave South Africa on 91 for two.
However, despite the early wickets, and even the loss of Jacques Kallis, who was uncorked by a fizzing delivery from Jayasuriya, South Africa looked to be in control whilst Gibbs was at the crease.
The 29-year-old batted serenely, cleverly opening his stance against Vaas and playing the ball as late as possible. He was ruthless and clinical against the loose delivery and looked set to carry South Africa home.
But Muttiah Muralitharan recovered from an expensive first over to claim the key wicket as the right-hander stretched across his stumps and missed an attempted sweep.
Next over, Boeta Dippenaar was given his marching orders by umpire Venkat as a quicker delivery from Jayasuriya thudded in to his pads.
Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock (25) revitalised local hopes with 63 runs in 13.1 overs before, just when the initiative looked to swinging to South Africa, a reflex back-hand flick from Muralitharan ran out Pollock.
With 57 needed from 45 balls, new batsman Lance Klusener struggled with his timing, scoring just one run from eight balls, and the run rate crept up until Muralitharan's ninth over, the 45th of the innings.
Muralitharan conceded five wides and was then slammed for a magnificent straight six by Boucher, who was 45 not out from 50 balls when play the players left the field. Cruelly, for South African fans, had Boucher taken a single off the last ball of the over and not tapped the ball straight to mid-wicket, South Africa would have won the match.
Earlier, Atapattu had scored his maiden World Cup century and the ninth of his career, rescuing the Sri Lanka's after a nervous start.
The innings was precariously placed on 90 for three after the loss of Sanath Jayasuriya (16), whose innings was cut short by some doleful running, Hashan Tillakaratne (14) and Mahela Jayawardene (1).
But the 32-year-old batted magnificently - his powerful and crisp driving through the cover region a feature of his innings -stroking 18 boundaries in his 124 from 129 balls
Aravinda de Silva provided solid support, showcasing his big match pedigree with a perfectly paced 73 from 78 balls, an innings that included six fours and two glorious leg-side sixes.
The experienced pair accelerated after a period of consolidation and eventually compiled a 152 run stand - a fourth wicket record for Sri Lanka against South Africa.