|Dilshan, centre, took four wickets and was only denied a hat-trick by a dropped catch [Reuters]|
Sri Lanka advanced to the quarter-finals of the Cricket World Cup with a 139-run win over Zimbabwe in Kandy.
Tillakaratne Dilshan starred in the group A match, scoring 144 in a 282-run partnership with Upul Tharanga (133) at the Pallekele Stadium. Dilshan then returned to wreck Zimbabwe and could have completed a hat-trick as well had Mahela Jayawardene not dropped a sitter in the slips.
Bowling the 30th over of the Zimbabwean innings, Dilshan (4-4) trapped Craig Ervine with his third delivery and induced an edge from Greg Lamb’s bat from the next which Jayawardene, diving to his left, smartly pouched.
Dilshan’s next delivery resulted in another edge but the same Jayawardene somehow managed to drop the sitter.
“The hat-trick unfortunately went away, but before that, Mahela took a brilliant catch, so the second wicket really went to him. It can happen,” he said after receiving the man of the match trophy in what he called the best game of his career.
Skipper Kumar Sangakkara did not disagree.
“He was magic. He’s got that magic touch with the bat, with the ball and even on the field,” Sangakkara said after his team buried Zimbabwe under a run mountain.
Chasing 328 for an improbable victory, Zimbabwe got off to a strong start with Brendan Taylor (80) and Regis Chakabva (35) showing scant respect for the Sri Lanka bowlers during their 116-run stand.
But once Muttiah Muralitharan (3-34), playing his last one-day international in his home town, separated them by removing Chakabva in the 20th over, Zimbabwe came unstuck, folding for 188 in 39 overs.
Wary of the dew factor, Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura had asked Sri Lanka to bat first and could only watch helplessly as his team mates retrieved ball after ball from the boundary line before tasting their first success in the 45th over.
Dilshan and Tharanga made merry on a feeble attack, rendered even weaker by Zimbabwe’s decision to hold back left-arm spinner Ray Price.
Zimbabwe have been served well by their time-tested strategy of opening with Price whose parsimony and accuracy have often stifled batsmen.
Chigumbura opened with the pace duo of Chris Mpofu and Tinashe Panyangara instead, a ploy he was left to rue.
Dilshan and Tharanga went after the pacers, treating them harshly with some effortless boundaries.
Price was soon pressed into service but the Sri Lankan openers had got their eyes in by then and were looking to convert the starts.
The spin trio of Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer did succeed in bringing down the sky-rocketing run rate, once again exposing how Zimbabwe missed a trick by ignoring their bowling strength.
It was not mindless slogging either by Dilshan, who hit the lone six of the Sri Lankan innings, or Tharanga who shared 33 fours between them.
Sri Lanka lost six wickets in the last 5.2 overs but by then they had put a total well beyond their opponents.