Bandara spins Sri Lanka into the finals
Malinga Bandara proved he really was a super sub with a stunning performance against South Africa that spun Sri Lanka into the VB Series finals. South Africa were travelling in relative comfort at 3 for 87 when Bandara was called from the dressing room in the 20th over, but he responded with 4 for 31 to floor his opponents and secure a 76-run win.
A regular Supersub during the preliminary rounds, Bandara has cemented the role for the best-of-three finals against Australia starting at Adelaide on Friday, and he will enter the match backed by 13 tournament wickets. South Africa started the match with a three-point lead, but the pressure of a winner-takes-all game showed throughout the contest on a cool day in Hobart, which began with snow melting on the nearby Mt Wellington.
There were a number of hot performances but none could match Bandara's legspin. He warmed up with the important dismissal of Graeme Smith, whose first half-century of the tour ended in a disappointing early exit from the competition. Smith has had an awful run in Australia, but he looked to have benefited from a dropped chance on 42 by Tillakaratne Dilshan until he aimed a wild sweep in Bandara's second over.
After 25 overs South Africa needed to score at a run a ball to reach the target of 258 that grew in difficulty as the match progressed. Smith displayed some refreshing touches, although he would have preferred more boundaries in his 67 from 76 balls. His mood worsened when he and Justin Kemp departed in the same Bandara over, Kemp pushing gently forward to be trapped lbw, and he then lost the double threats of Ashwell Prince and Shaun Pollock. Prince was forced into a limp return catch to Bandara, who was also the bowler when Pollock received an unlucky caught-behind decision, departing at 7 for 146.
"It's very difficult to be in for the second half of the session in the field," Bandara said as he walked off, "but I'm enjoying myself." Tom Moody, the coach, also praised Bandara's nine-over effort. "He's bowled very well all series, but particularly today on a pretty good batting pitch."
After Bandara's spree Johan van der Wath was outclassed by Muttiah Muralitharan, who spun the ball wickedly, and the final two wickets went to catches in the deep. It was a fine display set up by Chaminda Vaas's double strike in the seventh over and strong batting performances from Marvan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara.
At first look Sri Lanka seemed to have wasted a fine 123-run stand between Atapattu and Sangakkara as they stuttered to 9 for 257. They were on track for a 300-plus total and a collapse of 8 for 79 in the final 15 overs could have been terminal. In the end it didn't matter and as the pitch slowed and the spinners closed in the goal was a hopeless one for South Africa.
Atapattu, who left the field in the second innings with a back injury, returned to the top of the order after winning the toss and played a solid hand with 80 from 122 balls while Sangakkara was more fluent with his 62 from 77. They guided Sri Lanka to the strength of 1 for 175 before van der Wath (2 for 41) and Andrew Hall (3 for 50) combined to up-end the innings. Wickets continued to fall to mis-hits and it took a scrambling 30 from 24 balls by Dilshan, including two fours in the final over, to push Sri Lanka past 250.
The innings also began in a flurry as Sanath Jayasuriya blazed into Dale Steyn's nervous offerings and crashed him for 32 from three overs. Steyn was subbed for Johan Botha in the 18th over, but the danger of Jayasuriya had already disappeared after he played-on to Pollock. South Africa deserved to feel pleased, but after seven preliminary matches they still under-estimated the impact of Bandara.
The first two finals venues at Adelaide and Sydney offer surfaces to suit Sri Lanka's bowlers and Moody was confident of a strong showing. "There's no question Australia are world leaders in one-day cricket, but we're very excited," he said. "We've beaten them once and we're confident of giving them a shake."
Boeta Dippenaar lbw Vaas 9 (1 for 19)
Leaned back to glide but bat was behind pad
Herschelle Gibbs c&b Vaas (2 for 19)
Flung out left hand for fantastic catch
Mark Boucher b Fernando 24 (3 for 77)
Bottom-edged pull shot into off stump
Graeme Smith c Muralitharan b Bandara 67 (4 for 113)
Ugly slog-sweep mis-struck to mid-on
Justin Kemp lbw Bandara 0 (5 for 114)
No doubt as he pushed forward
Ashwell Prince c&b Bandara 22 (6 for 137)
Leading edge and easy catch
Shaun Pollock c Sangakkara b Bandara 15 (7 for 146)
Doubtful edge from cut shot and juggled catch
Johan van der Wath b Muralitharan 0 (8 for 147)
Missed big offspinner
Johan Botha c Kapugedera b Jayasuriya 17 (9 for 178)
Driven to long on
Charl Langeveldt c Mubarak b Dilshan 1 (181)
Swept hard to deep square leg
Sanath Jayasuriya b Pollock 25 (1 for 52)
Inside edge trying to drive to cover
Kumar Sangakkara c Dippenaar b van der Wath 62 (2 for 175)
Chipped to mid-off
Marvan Atapattu c Hall b van der Wath 80 (3 for 190)
Smart running catch at mid-off
Mahela Jayawardene lbw Hall 11 (4 for 207)
Missed off-cutter that was clipping top of middle
Jehan Mubarak c Prince b Hall 14 (5 for 212)
Skyed to cover
Chamara Kapugedara b Botha 3 (6 for 220)
Stepped away and missed
Chaminda Vaas c Botha b Langeveldt 5 (7 for 229)
Miscued to mid-off for easy take
Muttiah Muralitharan c Botha b Langeveldt 1 (8 for 241)
Holed out to deep mid-on
Tillakaratne Dilshan b Hall 30 (9 for 254)
Tried to paddle to fine leg
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo.