The T20 World Cup 2012 has finally burst to life... and in sensational fashion! The tournament's group stages were dismissed and criticised for being both too short and badly scheduled, with the bigger teams, on two occasions (South Africa v Sri Lanka and Australia v West Indies) being forced to play out dead rubbers after beating the weaker teams to qualify for the Super Eights. However, come the Super Eights and we seem set for thrilling and nail-biting games and finishes.
Sri Lanka faced New Zealand in the opening match of the Super Eight and after 40 overs of smash-and-grab, the two sides were forced to turn to a Super Over to settle the dispute! The Kiwis won the toss and elected to bat first.
Sri Lanka 174/6 (T Dilshan 76; J Franklin 2/34) beat New Zealand 174/6 (R Nicol 58; A Dananjaya 2/32, N Kulasekara 2/33) in one-over eliminator
New Zealand Bat First
Openers Rob Nicol and Martin Guptil have not had the best of tournaments so far but they clicked when it mattered, trotting to a 57 run partnership broken by Sri Lankan T20I debutant Akila Dananjaya. The 18 year old had Guptil (38) caught at the long-off boundary in the eighth over and would have been forgiven for considering that contribution enough. But he didn't and it wasn't.
Guptil's dismissal brought the big-hitting Brendon McCullum to the crease. The centurion from the first match took some time to get going but announced himself with a slashed six off Dananjaya. Meanwhile, down at the other end, Nicol ensured the boundaries kept coming, with a huge six, over long-off, off Jeevan Mendis and followed that with another off brother and world record holder Ajantha Mendis. McCullum was in his stride by now and dismissed debutant Dananjaya for another big hit in the 12th over to take the Kiwis to 99/1.
Unfortunately for New Zealand fans, McCullum (25) fell in the very next over; Ajantha Mendis getting his back for the earlier six by getting the ball to spin away as the batsman slogged. Thisara Perera at deep square leg took a safe catch, to call captain Ross Taylor to the crease.
Meanwhile, if Sri Lanka felt the dismissal of McCullum would slow the batting side down, Nicol reassured them it wouldn't... with three enormous sixes of Ajantha Mendis' final over, treating the bowler who took 6/8 against Zimbabwe with utter disdain. Sri Lanka would have revenge though, when Dananjaya took his second wicket of the game - Nicol (58) was caught at deep mid-wicket. And as the New Zealand innings entered its final four overs, the Kiwis were well positioned for a big score - 141/3.
The seamers returned for the final charge and Lasith Malinga started with a reasonably quiet over, conceding just the one boundary. Nuwan Kulasekara went one (actually two) better! He conceded two boundaries but took the priceless wickets of Taylor (23) and Jacob Oram (6) (who came on for Nicol).
With two overs to go New Zealand were flagging in their search for a big total - 159/5. And any doubts over that big total were effectively dismissed when the fiery Malinga castled Nathan McCullum (3) in the penultimate over and Williamson (4) ran himself out looking for something... anything... off the final ball of the innings. The last four overs produced only 33 runs and four wickets fell... not at all ideal for the Kiwis.
Sri Lanka's Response
The hosts started like they meant business... like they wanted to finish this and enjoy an early supper. Veteran openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene smashed 17 off the first over, by Nathan McCullum. The introduction of regular opening bowler Kyle Mills restored some order but the six, by captain Jayawardene, off Tim Southee in the third over threatened to blow the bowling wide open. Jayawardene was in a ferocious mood and it showed... he smashed Mills for four more in the first ball of the fourth over and then absolutely outdid himself, with a monstrous six in the third - freeing his arms and imperiously driving the ball over extra cover.
There was just no respite for New Zealand. It wasn't as if Jayawardene was doing all the hitting and Dilshan was keeping quiet. Southee was equally contemptuously handled, with the right hander hitting him for 10 in the first two balls of the fifth over and Jayawardene completing his misery with another six off the last ball.
After five overs Sri Lanka were running away with the game - 62/0 - only nine runs behind the record opening partnership for T20Is, set by West Indies against Australia in the 2009 World Cup.
That record would be broken soon enough, although Jacob Oram managed to keep the batsmen eerily quiet in the sixth over, conceding not a single boundary. Jayawardene made up for that when veteran spinner Daniel Vettori came into the picture, setting the new record with a perfect sweep to long leg for four. He then found third man for another four in the next over. And then it ended!
Oram struck, to the relief of Kiwi fans across the world, leading Jayawardene (44) into edging the ball to fine leg. Sri Lanka were 80/1. Unfortunately, Sangakkara simply picked up where his captain left off, punishing Oram with consecutive boundaries in the tenth over before driving Vettori to extra cover for four more in the next. Sangakkara (21) would not last long though and after a mix-up over a run to deep mid-wicket, the wicket-keeper had to depart.
It didn't seem to matter though. By this time, the Lankans needed 53 from 42 balls and Dilshan was still at the crease. Unfortunately for the hosts, Dilshan wasn't the problem. It was the wickets beginning to tumble at the other end. Jeevan Mendis (8) really only needed to get the singles, rotate the strike and let Dilshan handle the big hitting. His aerial drive into the off side was brilliantly caught by Taylor at extra cover. James Franklin was beginning to create problems for Sri Lanka. He had bowled two overs, conceded 11 runs and seen two wickets fall - Sangakkara and Jeevan Mendis.
Sri Lanka then retreated into a bit of a shell, with Vettori, Franklin and Southee conceding only 21 runs from the 16th, 17th and 18th overs. With two overs to go Dilshan needed 21 runs to ensure his country won and he started perfectly - smashing a full toss from Franklin for six.
The second ball was trouble - desperately looking to retain strike, Dilshan (76) called for a second run but was caught out after great work on the boundary by Southee. Sri Lanka - 162/4 - needed 13 off 10. Still very possible... except Perera (5) was bowled by Franklin off the last ball, leaving Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne with eight to win from the last over. Half the job was done when Thirimanne hit Southee for four in the penultimate ball!
And now scores were tied... one run to win... Thirimanne (5) was run out!
Bring on the Super Over - six balls - do or die!
Jayawardene, Dilshan and Perera were the nominated batsmen for Sri Lanka, while Southee was the bowler. The hosts finished with 13 on the board and then it was left to Malinga's searing pace to lead Sri Lanka to a stunning first win in the group stages!