Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
The Daniel Vettori who turned up at the post-match conference after the semi-final was not the Daniel Vettori that was expected to turn up. He was not grumpy, annoyed or irritable. He was not overly disappointed, he did not look like his world has crashed around him, or even like a small part of it was destroyed.
For the sixth time, New Zealand have exited the tournament at the semi-final stage and they have never reached a World Cup final. Vettori would have had every right to appear upset, heartbroken and gutted, as he looked on the field when Thilan Samaraweera hit the winning runs. By the time the media conference came around, 15 or so minutes later, he had dried his eyes and put the loss in perspective. "I can only speak for this team, I can't speak for the teams of yesteryear and we just came up short," he said, pragmatic as you like.
The coming up short started with the bat. New Zealand lost 6 for 25 runs at the end of their innings, including a dramatic 4 for 4, and were bowled out for 217. Already, they knew they were on the ropes. "We thought we were 20 to 30 runs short," Vettori said, although he maintained that he had made the correct decision by choosing to bat first. "Our top order came up short and against the Sri Lankan bowling it was tough to recover."
Despite a below-par batting performance New Zealand - known for their ability to fight, and just four days after defending 221 in spectacular fashion against South Africa - may have gone into the field thinking they would do it again. For that, they would need the batting side to play along, but Sri Lanka were no South Africa, and made it difficult for New Zealand to repeat their giant-killing performance. "Our whole game plan was to try and get them three down," Vettori said.
By the time that three down happened, Sri Lanka were only 57 away from victory and had formed enough of a solid base for the rest of the order to build on. Kumar Sangakkara was still at the crease, looking as composed as ever and the inroads New Zealand made were not enough to cause an upset. "The [Tillakaratne] Dilshan and Sangakkara partnership went on too long," Vettori said of the 120 runs the pair put on for the second wicket.
That was the partnership that put the match beyond New Zealand's reach and the only way they could get it back was to grab and pull with all they had. "When the opposition has to chase at less than 6 runs to the over, you have to get wickets and we were all about taking wickets and breaking partnerships. But we couldn't break the sixth wicket partnership." That stand, of 35 runs, between Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews won the match for Sri Lanka but had it been broken, it would have opened up the tail for New Zealand.
Mathews joined Samaraweera at the crease with the score on 185 for 5, still needing 33 to win and with the required-rate nudging its way towards a run a ball. Southee had just completed a maiden over but instead of applying pressure on the other end as well, Vettori allowed Jesse Ryder, who had just conceded nine runs in his first over, to continue. "I needed to get through some overs, Jesse was in the game already," Vettori explained.
He was not going to go as far as laying blame on anyone, even young Southee, who persisted with short balls towards the end of the Sri Lankan innings, which the Sri Lankan were not too afraid off. "Short bowling is a good plan but you have to bowl in the right areas. Tim Southee has had a great tournament and I can't blame him." Vettori has praise for the whole team's effort saying he was "impressed" with the way they fielded.
If there was a hint of sadness in going home and not to Mumbai, he didn't let it show. Perhaps it's because the performance the team had in this World Cup has been better than the showing they've had in the last nine months, when they lost four ODI series to subcontinental sides. Perhaps because it gives him such a boost to be able sign off from the captaincy on this note, knowing that the team has regained its ability to fight.
"Obviously we are incredibly disappointed. We fought so hard to stay in the tournament," he said. It was that determined fight that sees New Zealand go out, not embarrassed or humiliated, but like their captain, proud of about what they achieved and realistic about what they hope to do in the future.