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Jayawardene hits Sri Lanka to final

Mahela Jayawardene hammered a classic unbeaten century and Muttiah Muralitharan spun New Zealand out for 208 to take Sri Lanka into the World Cup final.

After beating the Blacks Caps by 81 runs in Jamaica, Jayawardene's team will face either two-time defending champion Australia or South Africa in Saturday's final in Barbados.

The second semifinal was at St. Lucia yesterday, with Australia strong favorite to advance and go on to an unprecedented third straight World Cup triumph.

Sri Lanka won't make it easy, whoever reaches the final.

"We have been playing some really good cricket," said Jayawardene, whose team has a fine balance of fast scoring and experienced batsmen and standout pace and spin bowlers. "We have a lot of belief in our batting lineup. We have a lot of guys who chipped in at this tournament."

Chasing another title to go with its surprise triumph in 1996, the Sri Lankans hammered 102 runs off the last 10 overs at Sabina Park for a score of 289 for five.

New Zealand, which has now lost five times in World Cup semifinals, made a big early breakthrough when opener Sanath Jayasuriya, who scored a century against the West Indies and is one of the in-form players at this championship, was out for one in the third over.

But Upul Tharanga shrugged off his poor form to hit 73 and Jayawardene recovered from a slow start to craft one of the best centuries of this championship.

Hitting 10 fours and three sixes, he effectively took the game away from New Zealand, whose bowlers were punished late in the game.

"We did hope we could restrict them to a score in the mid 200s but we didn't bowl well enough or field well enough," said New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, who announced after the game he was stepping down as one-day captain.

"Mahela played a superb innings and in the area where we would be good in the last 10 overs we were very poor."

The Sri Lanka captain was helped by Shane Bond's dropped catch just inside the boundary when he had made 70. New Zealand's top strike bowler, Bond had a poor game by his own high standards and the dropped catch was made worse by the fact that he let it land on the boundary rope for a six.

When New Zealand went in to bat, Fleming was out for only one with two runs on the board and Sri Lankan paceman Lasith Malinga made a fool of Ross Taylor with repeated deliveries that flashed past the outside of his bat.

With New Zealand laboring at 32-2 in the 11th over, Peter Fulton and Scott Styris gave their team hope with a rapid 73 from the next 11. The Kiwis were helped by some wild bowling from Dilhara Fernando, who had 45 taken off his five overs and was twice warned by umpire Rudi Koertzen for running too close to the batting line.

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