The capacity to produce brilliant, individualistic cricketers reaped more rewards for Sri Lanka here yesterday, taking them a step closer to a tournament success no rival would surely begrudge them.
With a 100 per cent record through the group and Super Eight stages, they advanced to the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 with a comprehensive 48-run victory over a limping New Zealand side whose elimination surprised no-one, least of all themselves.
The trauma of the Lahore shootings remains a raw memory, the unrest at home a disturbing backdrop, yet their players still present a sunny demeanour and retain the ability to bring joy with captivating cricket.
If it is not their innovative batsmanship, it is the unpredictable skills of their bowlers that unravel opponents and enthral spectators. On this occasion, while there were substantial contributions by three of their maestros at the crease, the chief destroyer of New Zealand was the rising spin bowler, Ajantha Mendis.
In a game designed to give free licence to batsmen, his three overs went for a miserly nine runs but, more than that, the 24-year-old took out two of the Kiwis' principal weapons in the space of four deliveries in a ninth over that was effectively decisive.
Having dragged Ross Taylor down the pitch to be stumped, he then beat Scott Styris's bewildered prod to knock back off-stump and leave New Zealand, who fancied they might chase down a target of 159, suddenly wobbling at 64 for 4 with much of their run-scoring potential already spent.
Mendis added Peter McGlashan, who edged to gully, to take his tally in the tournament to 10 from 18 overs at an average of 10.00 and an economy rate of 5.55. He has enhanced his reputation as a man of mystery, capable of summoning up leg-breaks, flippers, off-breaks and googlies at will, although Daniel Vettori, the beaten captain, attributed his success less to any mystical qualities as sheer brilliance.
"A lot of our guys felt they were picking him but on that pitch, with a lot of turn, he was still very difficult to play," Vettori said. "I don't think he is a mystery bowler, just a very good one."
Mendis himself is unfazed by the suggestion that batsmen are getting his measure. "He feels comfortable at the moment," his team-mate, Mahela Jayawardene said, interpreting questions on his behalf. "He says he has a few plans up his sleeve if people start to work him out."
Unorthodox batting, particularly in the form of Tillakaratne Dilshan's overhead flick shot, has been the feature of Sri Lanka's progress. This time their approach was more measured but Dilshan still hit 48, while Jayawardene, who struck a towering six off Vettori, and Kumar Sangakkara provided substance down the order.
Martin Guptill, with 43, offered the only innings of note for New Zealand, whose downfall Vettori refused to attribute to a length injury list. "We just didn't score enough runs," he said. "Sri Lanka deserve to get to the final."Reuse content