Wednesday 25 April 2007 

Muralitharan Spins Sri Lanka Into Final

Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan bamboozled New Zealand on Tuesday to send the 1996 champions to the World Cup final with a 81-run victory.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene chose to bat and struck an unbeaten 115 to lead his side to a daunting 289 for five at Sabina Park.

Master spinner Muralitharan then took four for 31 as he ran through the New Zealand middle-order, picking up three wickets in six balls, with Stephen Fleming's side collapsing to 208 all out. Fleming quit as Kiwis' one-day skipper shortly afterwards.

New Zealand's semi-final jinx continued - this was their fifth defeat at this stage of the World Cup in nine tournaments - while Sri Lanka moved into their second final.

They will meet the winners of Wednesday's second semi between holders Australia and South Africa in St Lucia.

Jayawardene had said before the game that his side's strength lay in specialists and his superbly paced innings, along with a knock of 73 from Upul Tharanga, justified his confidence in the upper order.

Not for the first time, Lasith Malinga delivered a superb spell of pace bowling before Muralitharan's deceptive spin proved too much for the Kiwis.

New Zealand had been well poised in their reply working their way to 100-2 after 20 overs but Muralitharan turned the game, producing a spell of five wickets for just 11 runs in tandem with Sanath Jayasuriya.

EARLY SETBACK

Sri Lanka had suffered an early setback when Jayasuriya, his country's most prolific run scorer, was bowled by James Franklin for one.

Left-armer Franklin claimed his second victim when wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara dollied a simple catch to New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming at mid-on with the score at 67.

Tharanga and a cautious Jayawardene then put on 44 and threatened a major partnership before spinner Daniel Vettori bowled a sweeping Tharanga around his legs.

Chamara Silva was unfortunate to be given out lbw off a mis-firing Shane Bond for 21 when television replays suggested he had got bat on ball before it hit the pads.

Tillakaratne Dilshan joined Jayawardene at a crucial stage of the game with Sri Lanka 152 for four in the 35th over and the pair stepped up the pace putting on an 81-run partnership in 64 deliveries.

Jacob Oram got rid off Dilshan with another harsh lbw decision before Jayawardene, who had been dropped by Bond on 70, then took complete charge and Sri Lanka amassed 102 runs from the final 10 overs.

The response began poorly for New Zealand when Fleming was trapped lbw by Malinga -- bowling with outstanding pace and accuracy -- and Chaminda Vaas trapped Ross Taylor leg before to leave the Kiwis on 32 for two.

But Scott Styris and Peter Fulton put on a 73-run partnership which brought New Zealand back into the running before Styris (37) was caught at mid-wicket off Dilshan and the slump began.

Jacob Oram (3) was the victim of a superb caught and bowled from Muralitharan and the spinner dismissed Brendon McCullum first ball, the wicketkeeper caught by Silva after unwisely trying to sweep.

Fulton went for 46, caught by Silva off Jayasuriya, before Muralitharan struck again trapping Vettori lbw after he failed to read the 'doosra' -- the off-spinner's surprise leg-break. New Zealand were then 116-7.

Craig McMillan, who struggled throughout the game with a stomach muscle problem, provided a brief rally with a hard-hitting 25 but the damage had been done and Muralitharan's fourth victim came when he bowled Bond.

With the game all but over last-man Jeetan Patel hit a spirited 34 at the end before he holed out off Dilshan.

© Reuters 2007