The first international match in the Providence Stadium, just outside Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, produced one of the most exciting matches in World Cup history. With the weather uncertain as well, Mahela Jayawardene took a brave call by electing to bat.
Sri Lanka lost wickets regularly, with Charl Langeveldt forcing Sanath Jayasuriya and Jayawardene to hole out. Then Herschelle Gibbs flew into the stumps Jonty Rhodes-style to run out Chamara Silva. With Sri Lanka struggling at 98 for five in the 25th over, South Africa were on top.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold put together a fighting 97-run stand off 130 deliveries. Dilshan (58) fell at 195 off the penultimate delivery of the 46th over, and then followed a veritable procession.
In their bid to rev up the scoring rate, the Sri Lankans swung their bats, only to hit steepling catches. The beneficiary on three occasions was Langeveldt, who returned with neat figures of five for 39 off his 10 overs.
The last five Sri Lankan wickets fell for 14 runs in the space of 17 balls.
Chaminda Vaas struck back immediately, bringing in the last delivery of his first over sharply to castle AB de Villiers for a duck. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis then settled into a long partnership.
The skipper looked in ominous form, raising a-run-a-ball fifty. Muttiah Muralitharan had him caught behind, but by then he had cracked 7 fours besides a six off Chaminda Vaas over long-off.
Gibbs helped Kallis put on 65 runs. But Magical Murali took a smart return catch to send back Gibbs, and then trapped Mark Boucher leg-before first ball.
Justin Kemp scratched around for a while before perishing, but Shaun Pollock helped Kallis take the Proteas to the doorstep of victory.
Four runs were required off 32 deliveries with five wickets in hand, when Lasith Malinga’s pin-point yorker crashed into Pollock’s stumps. Next ball, Andrew Hall lobbed another slower one into the hands of Upul Tharanga in the covers. That was the end of ‘Slinger’ Malinga’s over.
Just one run was scored off the next over, but that ensured that Kallis would face Malinga’s hat-trick ball. The perky little paceman steamed in, his mop of ringlets bouncing up and down, and with his low round arm put the ball in just the right place. Kallis edged it into the gloves of Kumar Sangakkara.
There was frenzy all around as Daryl Harper pointed his finger skywards. It was the fifth hat-trick in the World Cup, following the feats of Chetan Sharma, Saqlain Mushtaq, Chaminda Vaas and Brett Lee.
Malinga was now a man possessed. He produced another yorker that whistled into Makhaya Ntini’s stumps, achieving a feat that no other bowler had done before in international cricket - four wickets in four balls. It was now 207 for nine.
The next 11 deliveries produced just a single. But with two runs required for a win, Robin Peterson edged Malinga to the third-man boundary.
The tension released, Peterson went delirious as he sprinted towards the pavilion, knocking the stumps at the non-striker’s end with a wave of his bat.
There was just a tinge of regret as Malinga relived those pulsating moments: “The old ball was reverse-swinging and I got the wickets. I tried to get five-in-a-row, but unfortunately couldn’t. I think we didn’t have enough runs.”
Even so, he nearly achieved the impossible.
Sri Lanka: 209 all out (49.3 overs), South Africa: 212 for 9 wickets (48.2 overs) (CWC 2007)
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