Sri Lanka reap benefits from two years` preparation
Colombo: Sri Lanka stand one match away from reaping the benefits of their decision to devote more than two years to prepare for the World Cup.
After the disappointment of losing to Australia in the rain-affected 2007 final, the 1996 champions made sure they would get another crack at the title, against either India or Pakistan, after beating New Zealand by five wickets on Tuesday.
"It means a lot to us, this is what we planned for over two years once we finished 2007, once we missed the great opportunity," captain Kumar Sangakkara told the post-match news conference in Colombo. "To be here was very special for us and very important."
Sri Lanka, always a force at home, showed they could cope with unfamiliar conditions by claiming their first one-day series win in Australia late last year.
Although Ricky Ponting`s men were not the force they had been in 2007 when they swept unbeaten through the Caribbean, the victory showed Sri Lanka had all-round strength and match winners in key positions.
Three bowlers were instrumental in restricting New Zealand to an inadequate 217 all out in Sri Lanka`s five-wicket victory on Tuesday.
Lasith Malinga took two wickets with vicious indipping yorkers and one with a deceptive slower ball while Ajantha Mendis bamboozled all the Kiwi batsmen, who were restricted to playing him from the crease.
Muttiah Muralitharan, the sole survivor from the 1996 champion side, pushed his flagging body through a full quota of 10 overs and took a wicket with his final delivery at home.
Angelo Mathews did a useful job with his medium-pace before leaving the field after sustaining a thigh injury. He batted with a runner to help Sri Lanka to victory with an unbeaten 14.
"If you don`t have bowlers, you don`t have confidence," said Sangakkara. "You can be the best captain in the world but you are not going to win anything much."
Sangakkara said his team showed against New Zealand how hungry they were for success.
"Murali had a tough time in this tournament," he said.
"He is not 100 percent but you know the way he bowled today was exceptional. Angelo had a bit of a strain when he was running for a ball, he came back when he was needed and finished the job for us."
Sangakkara said the final on Saturday in Mumbai meant a great deal to the Sri Lanka, which was embroiled in a civil war for a quarter of a century.
"Cricket has always been the panacea that healed wounds in Sri Lanka," he said. "Whenever cricket was played, it seemed as the life was back to normal. We carried that responsibility with us whenever we played.”
"We haven`t won the final, we are in the final. So we need to keep our heads down and keep playing good cricket and understand that there is lot of work to do in the next three days to play in the biggest match of our lives."