The BLACKCAPS were left to reflect on a late batting collapse as they exited the ICC Cricket World Cup after a five-wicket semifinal loss to Sri Lanka in Colombo today.
playing in their sixth World Cup semifinal, the BLACKCAPS lost their last six wickets for 25 runs to be all out 217 and Sri Lanka, on the back of a 120-run second wicket stand between Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Kumar Sangakkara, won with 13 balls left despite a late wobble of their own.
The hosts, who were cruising to victory at 160 for one, lost their way late on under intense pressure from the New Zealand bowlers but Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews held their nerve as Sri Lanka stumbled across the line and into the final against the winner of tonight's second semifinal between India and Pakistan.
Tim Southee grabbed three wickets and miserly bowling from captain Daniel Vettori, Jacob Oram and late call-up Andy McKay ensured the match went down to the wire, but ultimately New Zealand did not have enough runs on the board to defend and their hopes of making their first World Cup final were dashed.
Vettori, who captained New Zealand for the last time, said: "We set up a great platform, but we just ruined it a little bit by losing too many wickets at the end.
"We scrapped pretty hard and gave ourselves a chance but just missed out," he said.
"I think the top order really set it up, we set ourselves up for a good power play ... and we missed out by not capitalising on that and I think that's where we lost the game."
He paid tribute to his side's fighting qualities to keep the game close.
"It's a characteristic of this team, particularly in the field, we've been an outstanding fielding side throughout this tournament and we knew, like the last game we played, if we get four or five wickets then we give ourselves a chance but unfortunately it just wasn't enough today," Vettori said.
Earlier, the BLACKCAPS were in a position to push the accelerator pedal late in their innings, but Sri Lanka's spinners struck late on to dismiss the Black Caps after 48.5 overs.
Defending a modest total New Zealand needed early wickets, but after the in-form Upul Tharanga, who blasted 30 from 31 balls, fell to a stunning Jesse Ryder catch, Dilshan and Sangakkara combined to take the match away from the Black Caps.
But they went down fighting, snaring four late wickets as the hosts suffered a severe bout of stage fright. Dilshan, the tournament's leading run scorer, made 73 and Sangakkara 54 but it was left to Samaraweera (23 not out) and Mathews (14 not out) to ride out the storm
Vettori, captaining New Zealand for the last time, called correctly and opted to bat at the Premadasa Stadium against the 1996 champions.
Their total was based around 57 from 35-year-old Scott Styris, in his final match for his country, and a handful of useful contributions but nothing of sufficient substance to trouble the vaunted Sri Lankan batting lineup.
Styris' 28th one day international half-century featured five fours in a 77-ball stay, but his dismissal to the last ball bowled in Sri Lanka by veteran spin king Muttiah Muralitharan was a key wicket in a disastrous collapse which all but ended New Zealand's hopes of making their first World Cup final.
The 38-year-old Muralitharan, in doubt for the match after being hampered by injuries to his knee and quadriceps and despite looking short of full fitness, proved a handful for the New Zealand batsmen and also removed Ryder, top scorer in the quarterfinal win over South Africa, for 19.
Styris shared in a 77-run stand with Ross Taylor (36) for the fourth wicket, but wickets fell at regular intervals to stymie the Black Caps' attempt to create a solid platform from which to launch a late onslaught.
Despite that, at 192 for four in the middle of the 44th over New Zealand were capable of posting a competitive total on a surface, used in Sri Lanka's 10-wicket quarterfinal win over England last weekend, that was expected to get slower as the match wore on.
But Kane Williamson's departure after a quickfire 22 sparked another all too familiar New Zealand batting meltdown.
They lost their last five wickets for 13 inside four overs as Sri Lanka's spinners, led by Ajantha Mendis who took three for 35, bamboozled their opponents.
Mendis had earlier removed the dangerous Taylor when he was poised to cut loose, with the competition's leading six-hitter swatting a long-hop straight into the hands of Tharanga on the mid-wicket boundary.
Lasith Malinga supported the slow bowlers with three wickets including serving up one of his trademark yorkers to remove opener Martin Guptill when he was well set on 39.
New Zealand made one change to the 11 that beat South Africa in their quarterfinal, bringing in left-arm paceman McKay for his Wellington teammate Luke Woodcock. McKay, who was only drafted into the squad at the weekend after Kyle Mills was ruled out with a quadriceps injury, bowled impressively to keep the Black Caps in the hunt.
Sri Lanka, who beat New Zealand by 112 runs in their final group match, kept faith with the side that crushed England at the same ground at the weekend.