Sri Lanka stroll to six-wicket win
Sri Lanka have a template for winning one-day matches, and when it comes off, there's little the opposition can do. Chaminda Vaas makes the early breakthroughs, Muttiah Muralitharan bamboozles in the middle-overs, part-time spinners race through tight overs, the target is manageable, and then becomes ridiculously so when Sanath Jayasuriya blazes away. New Zealand were the victims of just such a perfect plot, losing quite thoroughly by six wickets.
Stephen Fleming called heads at the toss, correctly, that much must be granted him, but after that there was little that anyone in a black cricket shirt, other than the magnificently determined and versatile Scott Styris, could do that slowed Sri Lanka's relentless pursuit of victory.
Vaas has lost so much pace in recent times that he has to rely on all his experience, curling the ball back in to the right-handed batsman repeatedly before slyly slipping one through that holds its line. Not so when Fleming is about, it seems. Giving new meaning to the term walking wicket, Fleming shuffled obligingly across his stumps to Vaas and was trapped in front for a duck. For the fourth time in as many matches when it's been New Zealand v Sri Lanka, the first line of New Zealand's batting card has read SP Fleming lbw b Vaas 0.
Ross Taylor missed three of the Super Eights matches with a hamstring injury, and he might just have wished he warmed the bench one day longer. He too bagged a duck, poking outside the off, only managing an edge that Kumar Sangakkara held niftily, diving to his weak right side and plucking the ball out of the air.
If 4 for 2 was bad, and it was, given the batsmen who had been dismissed, Styris and Peter Fulton worked hard to ensure that it did not become disastrous. The problem for them was Vaas' nagging accuracy, and with their freedom to attack curbed by the fall of early wickets, the pressure mounted and it was only a matter of time before a mistake was made. With the score on 59 for 2, Syris, who had 34 to his name at the time, tried to lap sweep Vaas round the corner. The ball ran off the face of the bat and lodged between Sangakkara's thigh and pad, eliciting a confident shout for the catch behind. Billy Doctrove ruled against Sri Lanka, and if he hadn't, the match as a contest might have ended then and there.
Vaas had a third soon enough, when Fulton flicked one from the stumps straight to Chamara Silva at deep midwicket. If Vaas can pick up three, so can I, Muralitharan seemed to think as he bounded into the attack. Craig McMillan obliged, sweeping with hard hands, top-edging to short fine-leg.
Jacob Oram held Sri Lanka up for a time, accumulating 31 in a partnership of 64, but he gave Tillakaratne Dilshan his wicket, coming down the pitch and hitting high rather than far, leaving Farveez Maharoof to settle under a swirler in the deep. Muralitharan then applied the stranglehold, sending Brendon McCullum - lbw to one delivered from round the stumps - and Daniel Vettori - another sweep that went wrong - for single-digit scores as New Zealand slumped to 155 for 7.
The record will show that Styris, who isn't the most obviously gifted or watchable batsman in the New Zealand team, scored 111 from 157 balls with eight fours. It will show that he managed 80 more than the next best batsman in his team and that he accounted for 50.68% of his team's runs. It won't, however, show that he at least gave his team a fighting chance against a team that seems to be building good momentum as the World Cup unravels.
And further sheen will be taken off the Styris innings by the fact that Sri Lanka batted so comfortably for the best part of their innings that it underscored that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Shane Bond doesn't depend so much on pitches for the simple reason that his pace through the air, coupled with a bit of late swing, make him lethal in all conditions.
But even Bond, who did try to soften the Sri Lankans up with some hostile short-pitched stuff, could have little impact, as Jayasuriya, in typical fashion, rocked along to a comfortable 64, adding an even 100 for the second wicket with Sangakkara. He provided the one thing New Zealand lacked when they batted - a decent partnership at the top - before he fell, against the run of play. Oram was the beneficiary as an attempted cut went off the bottom edge and McCullum took a sharp catch.
Mahela Jayawardene was characteristically pretty for his 15, but fell to a soft dismissal, pulling a short one from Vettori to midwicket, and Silva knocked it about for 23 before lofting to long-off. During all this, Sangakkara did what he needed to all tournament and spent time out in the middle. At an opportune moment he cashed in with an unbeaten 69 and took Sri Lanka to a six-wicket win.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo