'We had to do it the hard way' - Mathews
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews has underscored the spunk in Sri Lanka's Champions Trophy campaign, and marked their spirit a vital asset as they attempt to topple India, who have been the form team of the competition. Sri Lanka did not arrive in England as one of the favourites, but are now set to play their sixth semi-final in the last eight global tournaments.
Their two victories, over England and Australia, have ultimately been comfortable, but there were tense moments in both matches, where things might have easily gone awry for Sri Lanka. England set Sri Lanka 294 at The Oval, thanks in part to a 28-run final over. Sri Lanka rode down their target in the 48th over, thanks largely to an unbeaten 134 from Kumar Sangakkara, but also to Nuwan Kulasekara's 58 from 38, which made light work of a challenging required run rate.
The victory against Australia was no less dramatic. Mahela Jayawardene's 81-ball 84 first saw the side overcome the loss of two wickets inside the first four overs, and later, it took a stunning Tillakaratne Dilshan return take to end a 41-run last wicket stand that had brought substantial anxiety in a must-win match. The closest game of the lot was the one-wicket loss against New Zealand, which might have turned Sri Lanka's way if all the umpiring decisions late in the match had been correct.
"Especially after the New Zealand game, we had to do it the hard way," Mathews said. "We had to beat England in English conditions and also the Australians, who have played well recently. All three games went down to the wire, and we had to fight really hard to win. The team confidence is very high. We know that we are a fighting team, and we fight to the last moment. Hopefully we can once again have a good performance."
Sri Lanka have relied on their three experienced batsmen so far in the tournament, with Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawardene topping the run-scoring lists for the side. Only Lahiru Thirimanne among the other batsmen has a half-century to his name, but Mathews was confident Sri Lanka's batting order was not top-heavy.
"I would say Mahela and Sanga are the backbone of the batting line-up, but we've got a few youngsters in Dinesh Chandimal, Thirimanne who can take the bowling apart," he said. "We are not just depending on certain people in the team because all seven are good batters. Whoever gets set on that day has to continue for a long spell and try and get the team into a good total."
Sri Lanka have faced India regularly in ODIs in the last three years, but have not fared well in comparison to their exploits against other teams. Since 2010, Sri Lanka have lost 12 matches and won only eight, with one game having ended in a tie. Part of the reason for that record has been spearhead Lasith Malinga's poor form against India, which some Indian batsmen have credited to their familiarity with his bowling in the IPL. Malinga has not trained with the team on days immediately preceding matches during the tournament, but ahead of the semi-final, he sent down several overs in the nets as well as doing specialised work with bowling coach Chaminda Vaas. Mathews said the extra effort was due to desire on Malinga's part to overcome an average of 40.88 - his worst against any team.
"Lasith takes every game seriously, but it's just that he wants to do a little bit more for tomorrow," Mathews said. "We play against India a lot, as well, not only in the IPL. Whoever is playing against anyone all the time gets used to them. Lasith is a very good bowler and he's an experienced bowler and I'm sure he will come into those situations and have a few different ideas for tomorrow."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here