New Zealand keep semi-final hopes alive
New Zealand turned up at the Wanderers needing a win to stay alive in the ICC Champions Trophy, and at the end of an intriguing match it was Sri Lanka who found themselves on the verge of flying home in disappointment. Defending an impressive 315, which was set up by a century opening stand and a muscular finish, New Zealand were given a scare when Mahela Jayawardene took Sri Lanka to within striking range. But they fought back, despite some shoddy catching, to secure a nervy victory.
Like any gripping novel, this cracker had decisive passages that determined the outcome. The first: Sri Lanka gambled on a four-pronged pace attack and that left them needing to do damage with the harder ball if they were to have a chance of restricting New Zealand. They let themselves down, and Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum posted New Zealand's second-highest opening stand against Sri Lanka.
The second: New Zealand crumpled from 125 for 0 to 140 for 4 before a spirited 69-run partnership between Daniel Vettori and Martin Guptill breathed life back into the innings. Sri Lanka suffered during the final five overs, as New Zealand held back the Powerplay and slammed 61 runs off those five overs.
And the third: Sri Lanka were picking their way delightfully into a daunting target, their openers having set the tone in a free-spirited manner, but New Zealand turned the tables in a trice. Their four-pronged seam attack found more bounce on a flat track than Sri Lanka's had, indicative of three wickets falling to deliveries held back on length. Despite Jayawardene's brave hand Sri Lanka never recovered.
For 19.5 overs there had been little that Sri Lanka's attack could do about Ryder, the genius residing in him stirred by a pulled left abductor muscle, which would rule him out of the rest of the tournament. Ryder enjoyed some good fortune: he was let off by Ajantha Mendis at third man on 12, a misjudgment that left Sri Lanka aggrieved. Ryder didn't look back after that reprieve, kick-starting the innings with a stream of withering pulls and drives, aided by the help of a runner. He reached fifty off just 28 balls and with McCullum put on 125.
New Zealand wobbled thereafter, losing four wickets in 24 balls, but what followed was a terrific rearguard that helped New Zealand reach their highest score against Sri Lanka. Thriving in the company of Guptill, Vettori found the gaps with ease. Guptill knocked the ball around while Vettori took on Lasith Malinga early, slapping a six over third man. Some sloppy fielding in the middle overs, with a massive run out going begging, added to the pressure being released.
Vettori's dismissal in the 42nd over turned into a potential roadblock but Guptill, having contributed just 16 to the previous partnership, carried on to score a fluent 66 - a fine, hard-working innings even as the threat of losing partners lingered around the corner. James Franklin showed his worth on return to the side, clubbing an unbeaten 28 from 21 balls.
During the Sri Lankan chase, Shane Bond looked unsure of where to bowl in his opening over when Sanath Jayasuriya clipped four and Tillakaratne Dilshan sent him for three boundaries in four balls. Dilshan latched on to anything off line and outscored Jayasuriya, who replied by sauntering out and flat-batting Bond and Kyle Mills through extra cover.
Fortunately for New Zealand, Daryl Tuffey took care of Jayasuriya, who charged at a short ball and top-edged to midwicket. It was hard to comprehend why Tuffey was held back to first-change when he makes crucial contributions in his first over. Mills was given another over despite his first four going for 30, and had reason to smile when Dilshan top-edged to deep square leg for a 31-ball 41. Kumar Sangakarra failed to cash in on a drop by Vettori when on 0, nicking a short-of-a-length delivery from Franklin to slip.
Three wickets fell, whereupon began a tense period. Tuffey made Jayawardene push outside off stump, but was let down when McCullum put down a nick. There are few batsmen who bring a more assured presence to the crease than Jayawardene. If New Zealand needed any reminding, he soon gave it to them, shoring up the pressure with determination despite two more wickets falling in relative succession.
South Africa has not been Jayawardene's favourite destination but he looked to reinvent himself here with a display of crisp batting that helped take 54 in the batting Powerplay. Every corner of the ground was pinged with alarming control, and with Nuwan Kulasekara weighing in, Sri Lanka briefly flourished. Vettori bowled Jayawardene with 97 still needed; Kulasekara boosted the total with his maiden fifty but it turned out to be mere a footnote in a special win for New Zealand.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo