GEELONG: Kusal Mendis stood tall with a gritty 79 as Asian champions Sri Lanka bounced back from their early debacle to seal their Super 12 berth with a 16-run win over the Netherlands in the T20 World Cup here on Thursday.
Facing an early elimination after being shocked by Namibia in the T20 World Cup opener at the same venue on Sunday, Sri Lanka rode on the wicketkeeper-batter's 44-ball knock to post a stiff 162 for 6 after Dasun Shanaka opted to bat.
In reply, the Dutch, who led group A with wins over Namibia and UAE, managed 146 for 9 as the Lankan spin twins Wanindu Hasaranga (4-0-28-3) and Maheesh Theekshana (4-0-32-2) stymied their chase with perfect death over execution. For the Dutch, opener Max O'Dowd came up with a valiant 71 not out from 53 balls (6x4, 3x6) but he lacked the final flourish with hardly any support from the middle and lower order batters.
The Lankans now have four points from three matches in group A to confirm their Super 12 berth, while the Dutch will have to await the result of group A finale between UAE and Namibia later in the day to know their fate. The Netherlands, who have concluded their group A campaign with four points, have a net run-rate of -0.162. A win for Namibia later in the day could be a heartbreak for the Dutch as the former have a superior NRR of 1.277.
The 2014 world champions, who were fresh from winning the Asia Cup in UAE, faced a difficult road in the T20 showpiece after being stumbled by Namibia in the opening match here on Sunday.
Since then, the Lankans came back strongly to crush UAE to lift their NRR but only to face injury woes to star seamer Dushmantha Chameera (torn calf), Pramod Madushan (hamstring) and Danushka Gunathilaka (hamstring).
But the Shanaka-led side showed amazing resilience in the match that mattered most with opener Mendis leading the way. Sri Lanka had a slow and cautious start and lost Pathum Nissanka (14 off 21b) and Dhananjaya de Silva (0) off successive deliveries right after the power-play.
Paul van Meekeren (2/25) impressed with his raw pace and hostility, while spinners Tim Pringle (3-0-22-0) and van Roelof der Merwe (3-0-16-0) were at their tidy best.
The Dutch had complete control early on as the Lankans struggled to get going in the middle overs and it seemed Sri Lanka won't get past that 140-run mark but Mendis had other ideas.
He smashed five fours and five sixes and went on to equal his career best score before getting out in the second ball of the final over as the Dutch bowling fell apart in the death.
Thanks to Mendis' show, Sri Lanka scored 102 off the last 10 overs to set up a stiff chase for the Dutch.
''Early on the wicket was a little bit slow, so the plan was to take singles and hit the loose balls. Then after 10 overs we could go for more runs. Asalanka started a little slow, but after 15 balls he knew the wicket better; him hitting the three boundaries after that made it easy for me,'' man-of-the-match Mendis said about his innings.
In reply, Theekshana gave the first breakthrough, removing Vikramjit Singh inside the fourth over, while Lahiru Kumara (1/28) dismissed Bas de Leede (14) inside the powerplay.
But before the Dutch could recover from the early blows the Lankan spin duo spun their magical web to inflict a heartbreak.