Opener Kusal Mendis smashed a 44-ball 79 as Asian champions Sri Lanka defeated the Netherlands by 16 runs on Thursday to advance to the Twenty20 World Cup Super 12 stage.
The world’s eighth-ranked team racked up 162-6, including 102 off the final 10 overs, to set a lofty target that the Dutch were unable to meet, finishing on 146-9.
Sri Lanka has reached the Super 12 for the third time in a row, and they will be hoping to repeat their heroics from 2014, when Dinesh Chandimal led them to victory.
But it was a bumpy road to get there, as Namibia stunned them in the tournament’s first game before crushing UAE and now the Netherlands.
“We knew we could be number one in this group, but we fell short in the first game,” said Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka.
“However, the boys have performed admirably, particularly the bowling group. I knew the wicket was two-paced, so I told the team that we needed to bowl well in the first 10 overs to gain control of the game.”
Sri Lanka began slowly after winning the toss and electing to bat, with Pathum Nissanka and Mendis plodding to 22 off the first five overs.
Nissanka was dropped in the fifth over, but she fell apart on 14 when hostile pace bowler Paul Van Meekeren returned to the attack and bowled a yorker.
The next ball, Dhananjaya de Silva followed him back to the pavilion, out lbw, as Sri Lanka lived dangerously, with numerous chances falling just short of the fielders.
Charith Asalanka and Mendis put on a 60-run stand to boost the run rate before Asalanka was caught behind off all-rounder Bas de Leede for 31 runs.
Mendis reached his ninth T20 half-century with a six, then smashed consecutive sixes in the penultimate over before being run out, almost carrying his bat.
Despite the absence of injured pace spearheads Dushmantha Chameera and Pramod Madushan, a Sri Lankan attack led by replacements Lahiru Kumara and Binura Fernando held off the Dutch early on.
Opener Vikramjit Singh was caught by Shanaka off Maheesh Theekshana for seven, and Kumara then got the big wicket of rising star De Leede for 14.
The experienced Colin Ackermann went for a golden duck to Hasaranga de Silva’s spin as the Dutch led 63-3 at the half.
Opener Max O’Dowd (71 not out) fought valiantly, but when captain Scott Edwards was bowled by Fernando after a quick-fire 21, the game was all but over.
“A little unfortunate that the chances didn’t go our way, we let it slip a little towards the middle and back end,” Edwards said.