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September 27, 2012
Sri Lanka's captain Mahela Jayawardene extolled Lasith Malinga as the finest death bowler in world cricket after he bowled an imperturbable Super Over that finally killed off a persistent New Zealand challenge in their Super Eights tie in Pallakele.
Sri Lanka, emotionally if not in actuality, felt as though they had to win the match twice. New Zealand had looked out of the contest, but they dragged it into the Super Over with the help off a disputable run-out off the last ball of the regular match, when Ross Taylor was held to have deflected the ball off what replays suggested was his hand but the fielder himself thought must have been his knee.
When Sri Lanka scrambled 13 from their Super Over, failing to find the boundary but helped by three wides from Tim Southee, it fell to Malinga to protect their advantage. It was a close-run thing - had Tillakaratne Dilshan not held a skier at long-off, New Zealand would have needed two to win off the final ball, but Malinga produced the last-ball yorker to leave his captain full of praise.
Could he think of any death bowler who matched Malinga? "I don't think so," Jayawardene said. "He has got the experience, he has done it in various situations. He said what he was going to do from the beginning and how he wanted the field. It is easy for a captain when you have a bowler with that sort of confidence.
"Another day he might go for runs but you always back your ace bowler. It is good to have somebody who has control mentally over that situation. After that you try to execute your skills. It is important that you are tough in that situation and Mali is one of those guys."
Malinga was in his element, hitting the blockhole with regularity, despite a low-slung action that the coaches will tell you makes it doubly difficult to maintain such control.
Even as Malinga suppressed McCullum with the final yorker, with eight needed, Jayawardene was intent on tidying up the victory, extolling his celebrating fielders to get the ball back and break the stumps in case New Zealand had designs on trying to run the lot.
Sri Lanka had celebrated victory after Taylor initially conceded that he had failed to run out Lahiru Thirimanne at the non-striker's end, fumbling James Franklin's throw from point. He shook hands with the umpires, shook his head at the imagined defeat and headed for the dug out, a captain convinced the game was lost.
"We were looking at Ross' reaction and he wasn't that enthusiastic about the run-out so we thought we had scraped through," Jayawardene said. "I still haven't seen the footage. It was just chaos on the field. We thought we had won the game and then to go back into a Super Over was not easy but we kept our composure and made sure we played some smart cricket."
Taylor, aware that New Zealand probably need victories in their last two Super Eights matches against England on Saturday and West Indies on Monday, said: "James Franklin threw the ball very hard and I knew I didn't catch it. It was fairly close to hitting the stumps and I looked down and the bails were off, and the boys were going 'Oh, yeah,' and I thought that I must have flicked it off with my finger.
"I went and shook hands but when I got upstairs the coach was saying, 'It's out, it's out.' It must have come off my knee and broken the stumps or something. It wasn't deliberate. My hands weren't anywhere near it."
Sri Lanka were comfortably placed for victory at 103 for 1 midway through their innings, only 72 short of victory. Jayawardene and Dilshan produced some of the most scintillating batting of the tournament, but Jaywardene top-edged Jacob Oram to fine leg and Dilshan slowed as he tried to shepherd Sri Lanka's untested middle order to their target. "I felt that with one good over we could reach the target," Dilshan said. But Southee bowled two excellent overs of yorkers and the big over never came.
Taylor drew pride where he could. "From the situation we were in I thought we fought back very hard and I'm proud of the way we fought to the bitter end," he said. "I felt if we could get the big guns out we could pressure on the youngsters and we did that.
"We practiced a Super Over in a warm-up against Australia even though we had been convincingly beaten. You can simulate it as much as possible, but when you get into it, with the pressures and the crowd, you can't practice for that."
Lost in all the commotion was an international debut for Sri Lanka's teenage mystery spinner, Akila Dananjaya, who took two New Zealand wickets and a fearful blow in the face when he failed to hold a searing return catch. England's tremors against spin suggest that they will face him on Monday.
"It is a gut feeling to play him when you see a wicket or an opposition," Jayawardene said. "I wanted to give him a game, so now his jitters hopefully are over. He bowled really well for a young lad. Depending on the opposition we can use him again.
"When he got hit I thought, 'He has gone,' but when I got close to him he just said to me, 'Shit I dropped that catch.' He was bleeding from his noise but he was not too bad. He has got a bruised cheek but other than that he is alright."
Dananjaya has the sort of complicated attitude to his name that he still appears on some scorecards as MKPAD Perera. After five overs of Sri Lanka's innings, in which they scored 62, New Zealand's battered bowlers must have wished they could also be so anonymous.
New Zealand's bowlers were travelling many a mile and it would have been less painful to travel incognito. By the end of the night they had produced a remarkable recovery - but the game still belonged to Sri Lanka.
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