At the time of the match, New Zealand was the team most neutrals were supporting. The tenacity and the ability to punch above their weight in big competitions has always been admired. It has been a team that has survived in the international arena on their athleticism, work ethic, and stamina.
But there is only so far that hard-work can bring you. New Zealand gave a tough fight to Sri Lanka, but they always seemed a notch lower than the 1996 World Champions. This is now the 4th time the Kiwis have lost in the semi-finals. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, walked right on to yet another World Cup final. So one thing is for sure, the World Cup shall be won by a country from the sub-continent.
There weren’t a lot of talking points in this game. New Zealand batsmen failed to build on their starts and were left many dozen runs short of a competitive total. Muralidharan played his last match in his home country, and took a wicket off his last ball. One more match at Mumbai, and the the legend shall finally retire after taking more wickets than I can possibly hope to remember.
Interspersed by an incredible flying Jesse Ryder holding on to a catch, Sri Lanka quietly walked their way to victory, and had New Zealand almost two-thirds out of the match, when we finally got to experience the only tense moments in the match. It was a sight to behold: a stadium silenced by a mini batting collapse and runs scored at less than 2 runs an over. The New Zealand team was smiling again, enjoying every minute of this unexpected reversal. It seemed like the South Africa match again. New Zealand applying the strangling maneuver, and Sri Lanka almost tapping out.
Except it wasn’t to be. Ryder was introduced to the attack and promptly broke the miserly spell. A few shots by Samaraweera followed by Matthews taking apart Southee, and Sri Lanka had won the match handsomely. Fireworks engulfed the stadium, and soon there were victory laps, mostly in honor of the Lankan icon Muttiah Muralidharan.
Sri Lanka gets to meet the winners of the epic India-Pakistan match, which if media reports are to believed, is the biggest thing in the history of mankind, if not the Universe. Politicians have already started monopolizing space in the public, with token patriotism on the tongue of all. Unluckily, as I write this article. the weather is playing truant out there. There is nothing like nature getting on the nerves of sports fans.
But spare a thought for the New Zealand team. The Kiwis go back home, proud of yet another campaign of semi-glory. It was a day when the Kiwis almost took flight. Except they just couldn’t stay in the air long enough to reach the end. Southee ends the tournament as the second-best bowler of the tournament. And many of their players have given us great moments to remember, from Taylor’s brutal rampage to Ryder’s sublime catch. And this is the last we shall see of Vettori, the ODI captain. What a fine captain he was – celebral and often capable of keeping an unpredictable team afloat by his spin and late-order batting displays.
Tomorrow we move on to Mohali for what might be a rained out match.