Sri Lanka made full use of India's victory over New Zealand and sneaked into the semi-finals of the World Cup with a 74-run victory over Zimbabwe in a Super Six match in East London, South Africa, on Saturday.
The meet defending champions Australia in the first semi-final on Tuesday, at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth.
The Sri Lankans rode on a century from Marvan Atapattu to score 256 for five before restricting Zimbabwe to 182 in 41.5 overs.
A poor umpiring decision brought an end to Andy Flower's international career and whatever hopes Zimbabwe may have entertained of pulling off an upset, which looked a possibility at one stage.
Andy Flower, who announced he would retire after the match, was adjudged leg before wicket to Aravinda de Silva after a fluent 38, even though he produced a healthy inside edge.
The victory took Sri Lanka to 11.5 points and placed them fourth in the Super Six table. Australia, India and Kenya had already qualified for the semi-finals.
Atapattu scored his second century of this World Cup, his tenth in one-dayers, after Sri Lanka elected to bat first on winning the toss. He carried his bat through the innings to remain unbeaten on 103 off 127 deliveries, hitting seven fours in the process.
Zimbabwe gambled by promoting Douglas Marillier and Travis Friend in the batting order and the ploy paid off to an extent as the team got off to a good start in its run-chase.
Marillier, who opened the innings with top-scorer Craig Wishart, hit a 14-ball 19 while Friend scored 21 off 20 balls to put Zimbabwe much ahead of its required run-rate.
When these two fell, Zimbabwe were well served by an important third wicket partnership between Wishart, who made 43, and Andy Flower. Runs came fairly easily for Zimbabwe, who looked well on course of doing a favour to New Zealand.
Even when Wishart was bowled by Jayasuriya, the first of the three wickets the Sri Lanka skipper bagged, Zimbabwe's innings did not falter as Andy's brother, Grant, joined him in another useful stand.
But the moment Andy Flower was out in the 29th over, Sri Lanka were on top of the game. Zimbabwe never really recovered from the shock and folded up in the next 12 overs.
Earlier, Atapattu held the Sri Lankan innings together, putting up useful partnerships with nearly all the frontline batsmen. He put on 41 for the first wicket with Jayasuriya, 83 for the second with Avishka Gunawardene, 51 for the third wicket with Aravinda de Silva and 52 for the fourth wicket with Kumara Sangakkara as Sri Lanka were well served by decent scores from all their batsmen.
Gunawardene, a replacement for the woefully out of form Mahela Jayawardene, made 41 runs while Sangakkara scored a breezy 35 off 25 deliveries. Jayasuriya and de Silva made 22 and 25 runs respectively.
For Zimbabwe, Streak claimed two wickets for 40 runs while Marillier, Sean Ervine and Douglas Hondo took one wicket each.
An apology from Prem Panicker:
My attention was drawn, this evening, to some comments posted on the message board below my match report of the India versus New Zealand match.
To those who pointed out that I had erroneously written Dravid where I meant Ganguly, in relation to a bowling change; and to those who pointed out that it was Mohammad Kaif and not Rahul Dravid who hit the ball just above a leaping Chris Harris, my apologies and thanks for pointing out the error.
A couple of concerned friends of long standing have also written in asking what was going wrong. The simple explanation is that during this Cup, I find myself immured in the sound studio doing live commentary. That, plus Panix Station, means a good ten hours of straight talking.
I then find myself coming out immediately after the match and writing these long match reports, with an eye on the clock. This last is because I have also gotten mail from readers saying that after the game, they have been waiting impatiently for the match report.
With the best will in the world, I find myself unable to write a 2500-word match report in under an hour, it takes that long to just type it, never mind ordering your thoughts and looking up stats and stuff.
None of this is meant to excuse the errors -- they were stupid and unprofessional, and I apologise. Here on in, please wait for an hour-and-a-half after the match, which gives me time to write, then proof read before putting up the relevant report.
To those who suggest that the reports should be much shorter, again my apologies but no can do -- this is how we have done our reports over the years. It is far easier to do a 500 word match report and go home for dinner and rest -- but the length of the reports were dictated by readers themselves who, unable to see the action, asked for lengthy reports. Which is why rediff has made a practise of lengthy reports for seven years now, a practise we intend to continue (despite, may I add, the same three or four gentlemen posting the same message under about 20 different names at last count).
And, finally, to the gents who under many different names have been posting pretty much the same message (the names change, the language and content remain the same and that, frankly, is a dead giveaway), which is that my reports suck, well, thanks for the feedback, I never did think I qualified for the Nobel anyways.
May I point out with all due respect that there is a plethora of good writers over there -- Vijay Lokpally's name was mentioned, there are also others ranging from R Mohan, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Mark Nicholas, Simon Barnes... many many more, a whole raft of excellent writers, do take your pick, thanks much.