New Zealand squeak a thrilling victory
New Zealand 156 for 8 (McCullum 47*) beat Sri Lanka 147 (Jayawardene 38; Vettori 4-14) by 9 runs
New Zealand clinched a nailbiting nine-run win against Sri Lanka in another low-scoring thriller, thanks to a career-best bowling performance from Daniel Vettori, to cement their place in the final of this Bank Alfalah Cup. Chasing a moderate 157 for victory, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 147 in the last over of the innings.
Sri Lanka, who now have to keep their fingers crossed and hope that New Zealand beat Pakistan tomorrow, were left kicking themselves for letting Brendon McCullum clobber 47 crucial runs in the last five overs of the New Zealand innings.
McCullum's onslaught turned a substandard total into an eminently defendable score on a pitch that has favoured the bowlers - both fast bowlers and spinners - throughout the first five matches played.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka would have expected to chase down the target. The key to the innings was seeing off Vettori, who was always expected to turn the ball at right angles on the dusty surface. They failed miserably in that task as Vettori took 4 for 14 from his ten overs - his best ever figures in one-day intenational cricket.
Sri Lanka started well enough, with Romesh Kaluwitharana setting off like a man trying to catch the early afternoon safari bus from the team's Habarana hotel. However, when Kyle Mills was whipped out of the attack, having conceded 24 runs in two overs, Andre Adams brushed Kaluwitharana's glove with a leg-side bouncer (28 for 1).
Sanath Jayasuriya was unusually circumspect, facing 28 balls for his 9 runs, before being caught behind off Tuffey, beaten by a delivery that angled across (43 for 2).
Vettori, introduced in the 17th over, wasted no time before making his mark, bowling Kumar Sangakkara through the gate with his first delivery. An over later, he grabbed the prize wicket of Atapattu, who lobbed up a simple catch to Matt Horne at extra cover (63 for 4).
Vettori was pulled out of the attack after just these two overs, but Sri Lanka proved more comfortable against the medium pacers. Vettori's reintroduction spelled the end of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who edged a straightforward chance to slip (79 for 5).
Mills found the outside edge of Chaminda Vaas's bat in his second spell and Kumar Dharmasena was caught behind off Chris Harris, as Sri Lanka tottered to 101 for 7.
Jayawardene and Kaushal Lokuarachchi inched slowly towards the target, adding 20 in 58 balls, but New Zealand kept striking whenever the initiative started to swing.
Scott Styris trapped Lokuarachchi leg-before with an inswinger and, after the addition of another 14 runs, Muttiah Muralitharan couldn't resist trying to launch Vettori into the grandstand (136 for 9).
Prabath Nissanka plodded to the crease with 21 runs needed off 31 balls. He appeared calm - so calm that he played out a maiden in the penultimate over of the innings to leave Jayawardene needing 10 from the last six balls.
Jayawardene, who scored just one boundary in his 102-ball 38, gambled on Styris's first ball, trying to reach the unprotected off-side boundary with a reverse sweep. He top-edged a catch to backward point.
Earlier, after slumping to 88 for 6, New Zealand's victory hopes were kept alive by McCullum and Mills who added 50 runs for the seventh wicket. McCullum top-scored with 47 from 63 balls, a knock that included three sixes and two fours.
New Zealand had been under the hammer right from the time Atapattu won the toss and decided to bowl first - a gamble considering the manner in which the pitch was always likely to break up in the second innings - but McCullum swung New Zealand back into the game.
New Zealand lost regular wickets. Not a clatter of them like in the first match between the two sides, when New Zealand had slumped to 18 for 3, but a slow drip that stopped budding partnerships. It didn't help that two out of New Zealand's top seven were runout after wasteful mix-ups.
Once again, it was Muralitharan who dominated the bowling. Muralitharan, who broke through in the first over of his first and second spell, finished with 2 for 41 from his 10 overs. He has now taken 13 wickets in the tournament. Jayasuriya was also effective with his left-arm spin, taking 2 for 35 from nine overs.