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Sri Lanka Makes Cricket World Cup Final by Defeating New Zealand

Sri Lanka overcame a late challenge from New Zealand to win by 5 wickets and reach the Cricket World Cup final as Muttiah Muralitharan added to his record one-day wicket total in his last match on home soil.

Muralitharan took two wickets, including that of the Kiwi’s top-scorer Scott Styris (57) with his last ball, and was applauded before and after the match yesterday by the sellout crowd at the 36,000-capacity Premadasa Stadium. Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis each claimed three wickets as New Zealand was restricted to 217 in Colombo. Sri Lanka scored 220-5 with 13 balls remaining as Thilan Samaraweera hit the winning runs with a boundary off Andy McKay.

“It’s my last game and I got a wicket with my last ball,” Muralitharan said as he left the field with figures of 2-42. “The same thing happened to me in Test cricket so I’m very happy.”

Sri Lanka, the 1996 champion, moves to the final in Mumbai on April 2, where it will meet the winner of today’s match between archrivals India and Pakistan in Mohali, India.

“It’s nice to absorb all of this but it’s crucial we understand we haven’t won anything yet, we’ve just qualified for the final,” Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said in the post-match ceremony. “Whoever comes along, we’ll do our best.”

Same Wicket

Sri Lanka was playing on the same wicket where it humiliated England by 10 wickets in the March 26 quarterfinal. New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori won the toss and elected to bat, and the match was decided by the Sri Lankan bowlers, who restricted the Black Caps. In the build-up to the match Vettori said the decision to play on the same surface would be to his team’s disadvantage.

His worries were well founded as New Zealand, surprise winner over South Africa in the final eight, lost wickets at regular intervals as the batsman struggled with the pitch. Styris’s 57 lead the team, with Martin Guptill adding 39 and Ross Taylor getting 36.

“We set up a great platform but ruined it by losing too many wickets at the end,” Vettori said in an onfield interview. “Unfortunately we probably let ourselves down the last 10 overs with our batting.”

Ahead of yesterday’s game, Sri Lanka supporters crowd hoisted banners, blew horns and cheered Muralitharan’s arrival onto the field. The man with 800 Test and 534 one-day wickets will quit after the World Cup.

There had been doubts that the 38-year-old spinner would play because of a hamstring injury. “Murali, thank you for the memories,” read one banner hailing the country’s most recognized sportsman.

“He’s an icon of Sri Lanka,” Sangakkara said. “As a champion, a human being and a cricketer, I don’t think there’s anyone that can match him.”

Crowd Chants

Muralitharan got his 67th World Cup wicket when he had Jesse Ryder caught behind for 19 and capped his last match in front of his own fans when he had Styris trapped leg before wicket. That sent the crowd wild and chants of “Murali, Murali” reverberated from all sides of the ground.

The bowling of Mendis and Malinga was too much for the batsmen. A highlight came when Malinga clean-bowled Guptill with a vicious inswinging yorker, a delivery he practices regularly by placing a pair of shoes where the batsman usually stands. Mendis ended the innings with 7 balls still left to play when he got Tim Southee and Andy McKay.

In reply, Upul Tharanga, who along with opening partner Tillakaratne Dilshan scored an unbeaten century against England, scored a quick 30 before Ryder completed a one-handed catch off Southee.

His dismissal didn’t trouble Sri Lanka, for whom Dilshan and Sangakkara batted steadily, putting on 120 for the second wicket. Dilshan, whose 100 against England came in about as many balls, took 71 deliveries to reach his 50, then was dismissed by another catch by Ryder off Southee on 73.

New Zealand’s hopes of an unlikely fightback were stirred when Mahela Jayawardene was LBW to Vettori for 1 and Sangakkara (54) was caught, to leave the score on 169-4. Chamara Silva was bowled by McKay for 13, bringing in Angelo Mathews, who combined with Samaraweera for 35 runs to win the match.

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