Black Caps win but Sri Lanka through to the final
Though Sri Lanka remained favourites for the final right through, the day belonged to the Black Caps. The way they clinched a consolation victory from Sri Lanka was admirable and they looked a superior side in every department of the game.
By piling up a total of 248 runs, they neutralized Muralitharan's magic as Sinclair (118 not out) and Bell (66) plundered the Sri Lankan bowling. Sri Lanka remained topsy-turvy throughout the innings. Even star batsman, skipper Jayasuriya displayed a lack of confidence. They were only able to accumulate 169 runs for the loss of 8 wickets and lost the match by 79 runs. Despite a great victory the Black Caps could not beat Sri Lanka in run-rate and Friday, April 20 will be the big day for the final between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, an event for all cricket lovers to enjoy.
The 6th and last league match did serve as the promised challenge for New Zealand, trailing behind the other two participants and it commenced with the Black Caps batting first but losing a wicket to the very first ball.
Opener Chris Nevin was caught behind off Chaminda Vaas without a run on the board. Sinclair and Bell, however, batted with determination in a solid partnership. In full command, they hoisted the 100 and their individual 50s in 22 overs. It was Bell's first half-century in ODIs.
Sri Lanka got the second breakthrough when Bell was out for a superb 66, with the total on 141. Sri Lanka struck the third blow when McMillan offered an easy catch at deep mid-on at 167, but Sinclair fought on bravely.
Jacob Oram departed shortly afterwards when New Zealand were 176 for 4. The burden of piling up a big total now rested with Sinclair, who perhaps waited to complete his century before resorting to a slog.
Sri Lanka's fielding was excellent; Chris Harris was the fifth victim and fell at 200. Sinclair, in full command, completed his second ton of the tournament in the 46th over. Itching to open up, he was able to hit a mighty six off Vaas despite some tight bowling by Sri Lanka.
Trying to emulate his senior partner, Lou Vincent also tried a big hit but was caught by Zoysa on the boundary and the Black Caps were 227 for 6. The innings ended at 248 for 6, with Sinclair remaining not out for a marvellous 118 and Jayasuriya claiming 2 for 47.
Chasing a testing 249 run target Jayasuriya was off the mark with a sparkling square cut to the boundary. In the next over he survived a confident appeal for lbw followed by an edge to Nevin who failed to hold onto the chance. Luck appeared to be favouring the Sri Lankan skipper when he survived the third chance, dropped by Kyle Mills off his own bowling.
The batsmen were not facing the New Zealand fast bowlers with confidence and Kaluwitharana was clean bowled by Mills with the total at 14. Playing no aggressive shots, Sri Lanka went on the defensive rather too early. Atapattu was the next to go with Sri Lanka now 23 for 2 in nine overs. The Black Caps now had the upper hand.
A bitter struggle between Jayasuriya and Mills was a significant feature of the play, surviving one chance after another Jayasuriya was least comfortable against him. How long could he survive in such a state? Finally he offered a catch to Walker in the covers off Mills after scoring 25 uneasy runs. Sri Lanka were left at a perilous 37 for 3. The bowlers now tied batsmen Jayawardene and Indika de Saram down and it was becoming a Black Caps' day.
After showing lot of patience, de Saram summoned the courage to hit spinner Grant Bradburn but was beautifully caught by Mills at long on, leaping in the air. The loss of four important wickets had swung the match New Zealand's way, and with Sangakkara falling with the score on 87 the New Zealand bowlers were well on top, supported by some excellent fielding.
Russel Arnold was run out reducing Sri Lanka to a miserable 91 for 6. Speedster Chaminda Vaas, who scored an unbeaten 50 in his last outing, added 41 with Samaraweera after Jayawardene departed for a determined 41.
They brought the100 up in the 32nd over, a lacklustre performance in an era of enterprising cricket where the 100 normally appears on the board in 15-20 overs.
A victory now beyond their power, the batsmen were trying more to complete the 50 overs and the Sri Lankan innings ended at 169 for 8. The Black Caps won the match by 79 runs. Kyle Mills who claimed three wickets was the most troublesome bowler ably supported by Grant Bradburn who took two wickets.