| Maravan Atapattu attempts a paddle sweep en route to his unbeaten 103 at Buffalo Park in East London Saturday. (AFP)
East London: Sri Lanka secured the last World Cup semi-final place with a decisive, 74-run win over Zimbabwe at Buffalo Park on Saturday.
After winning the toss and posting 256 for five from their 50 overs, Sri Lanka dismissed Zimbabwe for 182 to claim a date with champions Australia in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.
The Super Six victory put paid to any lingering New Zealand hopes of a place in the last four. The New Zealanders required a Zimbabwe win to head the Sri Lankans.
Zimbabwe’s hopes all but disappeared when Andy Flower was leg before in his final international match for the top score of 38. Flower, who received a standing ovation, announced his retirement on Friday. He will be joined by fast bowler Henry Olonga, who said on Saturday that he did not intend to return to Zimbabwe.
Both men wore black armbands earlier in the tournament in protest at President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Sri Lanka’s total was built on the back of opener Maravan Atapattu’s unbeaten 103, his 10th one-day hundred and only the ninth time a batsman has batted through a completed innings at the World Cup.
Atapattu started cautiously and was dropped on 23 when wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu dived full length to his right but narrowly failed to hold on to an extremely difficult chance off the bowling of Travis Friend.
It took Atapattu until the final over of the innings to reach his century when he pushed the ball into the covers and scampered a single off Doug Hondo. He faced 127 balls and hit seven fours.
With Heath Streak slipping into a good rhythm from the start, the Sri Lankans failed to produce one of their trademark quick-fire starts, captain Sanath Jayasuriya taking until the 11th over of the innings to find the boundary.
He perished shortly afterwards for 22, edging a Streak delivery angled across him through to Taibu.
Avishka Gunawardene played unusually within himself on his return to the side as he and Atapattu added 83 for the second wicket. Gunawardene was dismissed for 41 when he chipped a return catch to spinner Douglas Marillier.
While Atapattu continued to graft at one end, Kumar Sangakkara provided the acceleration the Sri Lankans required towards the end of the innings with 35 runs from just 25 balls at the other.
Streak was the best of the bowlers with two for 40 from his 10 overs.
“Early on it wasn’t an easy wicket to bat on,” said Jayasuriya. Arapattu added: “It was quite hard to get those runs.”
Craig Wishart (43), Doug Marillier (19) and Travis Friend (21) got the Zimbabwe run chase off to a positive start, but the tournament co-hosts failed to build substantial partnerships at the top of the order and were undermined by the loss of wickets at regular intervals.
Their cause was terminally damaged when Flower was given out leg before for 38 to Aravinda de Silva’s slow off spin although television replays suggested the ball cannoned into Flower’s pads off an inside edge. The player himself was visibly aggrieved but left the field to a standing ovation.
Muttiah Muralidharan then returned to the attack and turned one through the gate to bowl Taibu (2) with the first delivery of his new spell. When Andy Blignaut smashed a Dihara Fernando full toss straight to cover in the next over Zimbabwe were 151 for six and in dire trouble.
Jayasuriya (three for 30) then picked up two wickets in three balls to hasten the end of the contest and spark celebrations with his team mates as Sri Lanka confirmed their place in the last four.
Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak said Flower’s dismissal had been crucial.
“In the context of the game it was a big wicket,” he said. “Andy was playing well out there and we knew we needed wickets in hand. Unfortunately no one could come in and continue that.” (Reuters)