Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara praised his brittle middle-order batting for carrying his team to the final of the World Cup after they beat New Zealand by five wickets in Colombo on Tuesday. Chasing New Zealand's moderate total of 217, Sri Lanka were cruising to victory at 160 for 1 when a sudden top-order collapse - four wickets fell for 25 runs - left them looking vulnerable, before the experience of Thilan Samaraweera and the flair of Angelo Mathews (batting with a runner due to a thigh strain) saw Sri Lanka through.
"The middle order won the match for us. I don't think it's anything to worry about," an elated Sangakkara said. "I always said if you give them the opportunity they would deliver. They got it today in very tense circumstances. We are very happy what they've done."
Samaraweera and Mathews added 35 crucial runs for the sixth wicket to carry Sri Lanka to their second successive World Cup final. They will meet the winners of Wednesday's second semi-final between India and Pakistan in the final on Saturday. Sangakkara blamed himself for not seeing Sri Lanka through to victory after the openers had got them off to a rapid start once again.
"The responsibility should have been on me and [Tillakaratne] Dilshan. Dilhan did his job and I should have seen the match through. I played one shot too many and our dismissals put a lot of pressure on the middle order and they came out very well.
"We got tensed in the end basically because Dilshan and I should have finished it off or got as close as possible at least to the 200 mark. We let that opportunity go and put the side under a bit of pressure. Dilshan batted brilliantly, he and Upul (Tharanga) gave us another great start. Upul was out to a fantastic catch by Jesse Ryder when he was batting beautifully.
"My job was to hang around with Dilshan and build a partnership, but with two down and 60 runs to go on hindsight it was good for the middle order to show us what they can do as well. Thilan did exactly what was expected of him, Chamara Silva chipped in and Angelo Mathews as usual finished it up for us."
It was the second time in successive knockout matches that Sri Lanka had chased and won under lights. "We won two matches chasing because we lost the toss not because of anything else. If we had won the toss we would have batted first," Sangakkara said. "Chasing and winning does a lot more for your confidence than batting first and defending because you got the bowling attack to defend. You just need to see off ourselves how well we do in a chase especially in two crunch games. I thought New Zealand adapted to the conditions a lot better.
"They always have the variety to trouble us at home because they have the bits and pieces cricketers and quality spinners. But today the wicket was really great it didn't take a huge amount of spin and actually the seam bowlers were a bit more difficult to attack than spin."
Reaching a World Cup final was the culmination of a long journey and careful planning, Sangakkara said. "We planned for it for over two years. We missed a great opportunity in 2007. Ours was to recreate those opportunities in 2011 and to be there is very special for us. If we had not won the World Cup in 1996 we wouldn't have come to this level. We must thank players like Murali [Muralitharan], Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas], Sanath [Sanath Jayasuriya], Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna [Ranatunga].
"From that winning side only one member is with us and that is Murali. The amount of input he has given to us we cannot measure. If you take his bowling and his character he has played a big part in our cricket. Not only the players but the rest of Sri Lanka look at him as someone special."
The game was Muralitharan's final appearance in an ODI at home and he was rightfully given a lap of honour at the end of the match. "It was a bit emotional because it was the last game we were playing in front of our home crowd. The next match is not going to be here. It was a very special moment for us and even more so because it is the last time Murali will ever play an ODI. When the magnitude of that occasion hits you it kind of overwhelms you."
In his farewell Test against India last year, Muralitharan took his 800th wicket with the last ball he bowled in Test cricket. Against New Zealand, he again took a wicket off the final ball he bowled in his final ODI appearance at home.
"The good thing about Murali is he has no ego and he is a great team man," Sangakarra said. "Why these kind of fairytale endings keep happening to him is because he is a great human being. He has a great heart, he is an honest hardworking guy and he has no pretenses about it. When he is such a nice guy good things happen to him."
Looking ahead at the final on Saturday, Sangakkara said, "Kicking off from here it is easy to get carried away. We won a semi-final but we haven't won a final. We are in the final, we need to keep our heads down and keep playing good cricket. There is a lot of work to do in the next three days to play in the biggest match of our lives.
"It means a great deal especially in a new future that is envisioned for Sri Lanka. For us to be in this position, to host a World Cup and for the Sri Lankan team to get into a final it bodes well for the future of our country. Cricket's always been the panacea that's healed all wounds in Sri Lanka. Whenever cricket is played it seems as if life was back to normal. We carry that responsible job and it has been with us whenever we played. We understand the gravity of work but we also understand what privilege it is to be able to represent our country.
"Every single match we play is for our country. What people outside don't see is the greatest pride we have when we don our national colours. You go to the dressing room and there is a national flag with every player above their seat before we go out to play."