Sri Lanka took over as the leading contender for Australia’s World Cup title by beating New Zealand by six wickets on Thursday.
Despite a century by Scott Styris, New Zealand lumbered to only 219 for seven at Grenada and the Sri Lankans ambled to the target with almost five overs to spare.
Now, Mahela Jayawardene and his team faces an even bigger test on Monday when it meets Australia on the same pitch at St George’s.
”That’s another good challenge for us to play on this wicket and we’re looking forward to that,” the Sri Lanka captain said. ”In a tournament like this you need to take up challenges and I think the 15 guys we have are quite capable of doing that.”
After six World Cup victories in a row and nine in all, the Black Caps appeared to be the most likely team to stop Australia winning the title for the third time in a row.
But the Sri Lankans weren’t weakened by the absence of injured fast bowler Lasith Malinga and then underlined their batting depth.
Kumar Sangakkara scored an unbeaten 69 and Sanath Jayasuriya 64. Their only loss in seven games so far was by one wicket to South Africa, which is also expected to reach the semifinal.
New Zealand squandered a chance to move two points clear of Australia at the top of the Super Eights standings and the two neighbours are tied on eight points with the Sri Lankans.
”We just couldn’t post a score which was going to be competitive,” said Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming. ”We needed early wickets, couldn’t get anything to stick in the hands, there were a few extras and lapses in concentration.
”We had a real good run and we looked at these next three games as being crucial in the washup to the semifinal. This was the first time we’d been tested and we didn’t come through.”
The championship continues on Friday with Australia favoured to maintain its winning streak by beating last place Ireland in Barbados.
Captain Ricky Ponting’s team has crushed all its opponents so far and Ireland — even with three Aussie born players on the line-up — doesn’t appear to have the quality to cause probably the biggest upset in the 32-year history of the competition.
Australia isn’t renowned for giving the underdog much chance and Ponting says his team will take no risks against the Irish, who upset Pakistan and have done well just to get this far.
”We have to be sure that nothing sneaks up on us and catches us unawares,” Ponting said. ”We are preparing for this match as we would against South Africa or Sri Lanka.”
Facing 1996 champion Sri Lanka on what was supposed to be a good batting pitch at St George’s, New Zealand had the chance to put on a show to illustrate its title potential. Fleming’s team let the Sri Lankans do that instead.
Scott Styris, who took 20 balls for his first run, made 111 to prop up the New Zealand innings. But left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas took 3-33 and Muttiah Muralitharan 3-32.
Fleming, who won the toss and decided to bat, was lbw to Vaas for nought off the fifth ball of the day. Then Ross Taylor, back in the side after four games out through injury, lasted two balls before he was out without scoring. At the end of that over, Vaas had taken 2-1 and New Zealand was 4-2.
Styris had help from Peter Fulton, Jacob Oram and James Franklin to bolster the New Zealand innings. But Vaas and Muralitharan kept the wickets tumbling.
If the Kiwis had to hit back, they didn’t make a great start. They handed Sri Lanka 13 runs in byes, leg byes and wides in the first two overs and Taylor missed a run out attempt.
Fleming dropped Upul Tharanga at point and the Sri Lankans had raced to 30 in the fourth over when Shane Bond took a spectacular catch over his head to dismiss the opener.
Craig McMillan dropped Sangakkara and it proved another expensive blunder as he and opener Jayasuriya took the score to 130 by the 26th over and the game effectively out of New Zealand’s reach.
Jayasuriya, who scored 115 against the West Indies and 109 against Bangladesh, went on to score 64 before edging a catch to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum and New Zealand had another breakthrough when captain Mahela Jayawardene was out for 15 at 152-3.
That meant Sri Lanka needed only 68 for victory with almost 20 overs left and Sangakkara went on to score his sixth one-day 50 against New Zealand. – Sapa-AP