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Home > Cricket > The Cup > Report

Australia crush Sri Lanka for 25th straight WC win

Prem Panicker | April 16, 2007 20:53 IST
Last Updated: April 17, 2007 02:34 IST

Scorecard | Images

Defending champions Australia maintained their 100 percent record in the World Cup after cruising to a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the Super Eights on Monday.

The victory extended Australia unbeaten run to 25 matches in the World Cup since losing to Pakistan at the 1999 tournament.

Chasing 226 for viictory, Australia eased to the target with 44 balls to spare. Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds were unbeaten on 66 and 63 respectively.

Both teams had already qualified for the semi-finals and Sri Lanka rested their two leading bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, while the injured Lasith Malinga was not considered for selection.

Earlier, a third-wicket partnership between captain Mahela Jayawardene (72) and Chamara Silva (64) rallied Sri Lanka from a precarious 27 for three to a fighting total.

Man of the match Nathan Bracken was the most impressive Australian bowler, returning figures of four for 19 from 9.4 overs.

Sri Lanka innings

They are calling today's game at the National Stadium, at St George's in Grenada, a preview of the final - and they might not be far off the mark.

Australia is the most dominant team of this World Cup, and Sri Lanka thus far has looked the most rounded - in a sense, the progress of the two teams through this Cup thus far is `d�j� vu all over again', reprising to a remarkable extent the events of the 1996 Cup.

Neither team needs this result to get into the semifinal; both teams likely came into the game with goals in mind, things they want to try out, lessons they want to learn, points they want to prove and disprove.

From that point of view, the team lineup is illuminating. Both teams had one forced change through injury: Australia sat out Shane Watson, who is nursing a calf injury, and Lanka omitted Lasith Malinga, whose ankle is reportedly recovering nicely, but who coach Tom Moody feels is best held back, and allowed to heal more.

The real pre-match stunner though came from Sri Lanka: its team list omitted both Chaminda Vaas, and Muthaiah Muralitharan, replacing them with Kulasekara and Malinga Bandara.

The question is why, and one possible answer could be this: Had Sri Lanka played its best team and lost, nothing would be gained, and a bit of mental pressure could result (Having said this, top teams realize more than the others that much of this `mental pressure' business is hogwash; that it all boils down to what you do on the day, not what you have done, or had done to you, before).

Follow that line of thinking a bit more: Here, Sri Lanka plays what is a virtual second string attack. Its batsmen get a good look at the opposition bowling; by the same token, it denies Ponting and the others an opportunity to see, in actual match situation, what some of Sri Lanka's more recent tactical innovations (Murali round the wicket to the right handers comes immediately to mind, but it is not the only one) are like, when you are squaring up to it.

And since `psychological points' is so beloved of commentators and analysts, how about this?: If you can put runs on the board and even with a second string attack, make Australia sweat to get past the line, then the `psychological point' is simply this: gee, you think this is tough, what are you going to do when up against Vaas, Malinga and Murali?

All good fun, this - but to walk much of that talk, Sri Lanka needs runs on the board; around 250 would be a good score, on a track that is likely to get slower and lower, and turn more, as the game progresses.

That is likely what Jayawardene had in mind as a plan, when he opted for first strike on winning the toss. That plan though didn't quite materialize, thanks to Australia taking out three early wickets.

Nathan Bracken drew first blood in the fifth over, when he set Jayasuriya up with deliveries seaming away, then bowled one much fuller, and on the stumps. Jayasuriya looked to play it off his pads but, where he normally looks to whip with a great deal of force, here he was forced into a tentative push. The ball straightened, where the batsman looked for it to deviate, and took the pad for umpire Billy Doctrove to rule in favor of the bowler (12/12; 26/1).

Kumar Sangakkara was a touch unlucky. Glenn McGrath, taking over from the hugely erratic Shaun Tait (his first ball was about three feet down the leg side and swung another three feet away) after the Aussie quick had gone 2-0-18-0, pitched one on length on off, moving it in. Sangakkara squared up in defense but missed the line of the ball and was hit on the pad. The strike was high, and it seemed the ball would bounce over, but umpire Aleem Dar reckoned otherwise (0/6; 27/2).

Upul Tharanga has never really looked the part throughout this competition; most times, he has neither exploded off the blocks, nor looked impressive defending and playing the waiting game. In 1996, the Lankans had Romesh Kaluwitharana, and the advantage was that Kalu was given license to go flat out irrespective; the Lankans figured that if he fired, they were off and running especially with Jayasuriya doing his bit at the other end; if he failed, Asanka Gurusinghe would come in and hold the bowling at bay while creating a platform for Aravinda and Arjuna.

Tharanga hasn't been able to duplicate Kalu's efforts from then, and that in turn has transferred enormous pressure on Sangakkara. Here again, the southpaw scratched around for some 22 unimpressive deliveries for his 6, before pushing hard at a Bracken delivery on off seaming away, to get the edge through to Mathew Hayden at first slip (6/22; 27/3).

That wicket fell in the 7th over. From that point on, Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva dug deep, putting together a reviving partnership that added 50 in 82 deliveries, and at the halfway stage looks to have repaired some of the damage of the early loss of wickets.

Neither batsman was in a position to really attack; both played well within themselves and used nudges and pushes more than the bludgeon to get their runs, but at the halfway mark, both have been playing with considerable freedom, and are seemingly set.

Jayawardene in particular looks interesting. He began the competition on a horrific run of form; his early outings merely made matters worse, and even when he began turning it around, the runs were coming but without the authority, and flair, that is his trademark.

Here, he is batting very close to his best. The footwork is back as is the timing; the shot selection thus far has been impeccable, as has his sense of where the gaps are.

At the halfway mark, the honors remain with Australia - but gradually, the batting side is forcing its way back into this game, and it is all set up for a great second half.

Sri Lanka Progression: 1-25 overs

5 overs: 26/1 @ 5.20 (Tharanga 5/16; Sangakkara 0/3)

10 overs: 33/3 @ 3.30 (Chamara Silva 4/14; Jayawardene 0/9)

15 overs: 59/3 @ 3.93 (Silva 15/30; Jayawardene 13/23)

20 overs: 73/3 @ 3.68 (Silva 21/47; Jayawardene 18/30)

25 overs: 91/3 @ 3.64 (Silva 32/65; Jayawardene 27/49)

Overs 26-50

Mahela Jayawardene got to his 50 off 64 balls; Chamara Silva took 91.

That pretty much says it, right there, about the difference in approach of the two right-handers. Silva, normally a free flowing batsman, preferred in this innings to work the ball around; Jayawardene, till this point of the competition not in prime form, chose this innings to work his way back to something approximating his best.

The two batted in second gear till around the 29th over; the first signal that the Lankans felt confident enough to move up the gears came in the 29th, when Shaun Tait came back into the attack and Silva promptly went forward, then down on one knee, to drive effortlessly through the covers.

It was Jayawardene though who really turned it on. McGrath came on in the 30th and the Lankan captain went right across his stumps, ending up well outside off, and paddling him with considerable cheek to the fine leg fence.

In Tait's next over, Jayawardene played an incredible short arm pull, first coming onto the front foot, then leaning back and playing the shot almost off his eyebrows, to power the ball high over the square leg boundary. Tait responded with an attempted yorker, and Mahela flicked through square leg again, this time for a brace.

The Lankans appeared to have batted themselves into an excellent position, with two set batsmen at the crease, the Aussie bowling tamed, and a partnership of 140 off 185 deliveries negating the loss of early wickets. But then, disaster struck, in the form of Brad Hogg who produced two excellent deliveries to take wickets in successive overs.

In the 38th, he flighted one up on middle and leg, inviting the sweep with his fine leg brought up. The ball bit, bounced and turned; Silva went for the sweep, couldn't handle the bounce, and top edged to Clarke at short fine leg - the placing of Clarke, one of their best fielders, there in itself indicating that the Aussies were working towards this particular mode of dismissal (64/107; 167/4).

In his next over, the 40th, Hogg took out Jayawardene. Again, the ball was well flighted and looped, this time on an inch better than good length. Mahela was drawn forward, looking to play with the turn; the ball beat the bat in flight, went past the bat and Gilchrist had the bails off before the batsman could ground his bat (72/88; 174/5). It was a very good innings that, unfortunately for Lanka, ended just when the captain should have been looking to bat through.

Give the Aussies a sniff, and they will take the game away from you in patented fashion. The fielders come in, scoring becomes progressively difficult, and the bowlers hold their line, leaving it to the batsmen to succumb to the pressure of needing runs at the business end of the innings.

Tillekeratne Dilshan was the first to feel the pressure. Tait, in another show of faith by his captain despite some extremely wayward bowling, got the ball back in the 41st, and a short ball outside off saw Dilshan make a total mess of an attempted hook; the ball went up for Brad Hodge to hold with ease at square leg (7/13; 178/6).

Next up, Arnold - whose presence in this lineup is increasingly mystifying. Tait bowled the full, yorker length a couple of times, then banged one down. Arnold tried to swipe it away, was in no position to play the shot, and managed only to drag it back onto his stumps (3/10; 183/7).

Nathan Bracken had been brilliant right through the game. His first spell read 6-2-8-2; he was brought back for an over when McGrath and Tait went for runs in the 30-over region, and upgraded his analysis to 7-2-9-2. From halfway through his first spell, he was bowling like a very fast left arm spinner, jagging the ball away from right handers at pace, with Gilchrist standing right up and keeping superbly.

In the 44th, he kept beating Kulasekhara's outside edge with a series of superb deliveries. Ponting brought in a slip, Bracken produced a ball just a touch fuller, Kulasekhara drove at it, and the edge was pouched by Hayden in, guess where, slip (1/5; 184/8). It was great cricket all round - good thinking by Ponting, perfect execution by Bracken, and an outstanding catch by Hayden, who had to go real low real quick to hold (1/5; 184/8).

The boundaries had dried up once Jayasuriya left; Bandara in the 47th over ended the drought, smacking a short ball outside off, from McGrath, up and over midwicket for a big six. He seemed to like the taste of it - in his next over, he came dancing down at Michael Clarke and swung, high, wide, and effectively over the long on boundary.

The 49th over was McGrath's - or rather, Maharoof's. Outside of Jayawardene, McGrath had held the line against all other Lankan batsmen; right at the death, it was his turn to get rattled as the Lankans cashed in on his lack of pace. The first ball was an attempted yorker that Maharoof drove, with great finesse, back down the ground for four. The next was a no ball; the ball after that saw Maharoof have a whirl, all arms and flailing bat, and squeeze the ball off his inner edge, down to fine leg for four more.

A few singles followed, and off the last ball of his spell, he produced a short delivery that Bandara tried to pull. He was moving forward, though, when the ball was delivered, and ended up cramped for room, managing only to hit it off the high part of the bat to Hogg at midwicket (17/19; 218/9). The 34 run partnership, at a tick over 6 rpo, had halted the slump and given the Lankans a few valuable runs to work with.

Bracken bowled the last over, and Maharoof cashed in. He first stepped into a delivery and smacked it over mid off; he then backed away and flashed, getting the hard outer edge and smearing the ball between the slip and the keeper for four more. An attempt to chip a yorker length ball down the ground saw Maharoof mishit, however, and play it to Symonds at long on to end the Lankan innings with two deliveries to go of the allotted 50 overs (25/22; 226 all out).

Bracken was the standout performer for the Aussies with the ball; McGrath did well in patches and Hogg was tight and controlled throughout. Tait was clearly a disappointment - on the day, his bowling was, to use the inelegant phrase, as directionless as a cow pissing on a rock.

226 is not a total likely to challenge the Aussies - especially with three top flight Lankan bowlers missing from the lineup. But there is still just enough up there to challenge the Aussies, especially when the spinners come on.

Progression: 26-50 overs

30 overs: 119/3 @ 3.96 (Jayawardene 40/60; Silva 47.84)

35 overs: 156/3 @ 4.45 (Jayawardene 61/100; Silva 63/103)

40 overs: 174/5 @ 4.35 (Arnold 0/2; Dilshan 4/7)

45 overs: 187/8 @ 4.15 (Bandara 2/7; Maharoof 3/5)

Australia innings

The top captains in this Cup have produced moments of inspiration that defies cricketing logic - or at least, the sort of cricketing logic you can see from the outside looking in.

Stephen Fleming, opting for McMillan the other day when the game was getting away from him, was one; Mahela Jayawardene, bowling Russel Arnold against Australia in the 11th over of the innings, with the power play on and openers Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist moving into rampage mode, is another.

The two openers had started slowly, even a touch shakily - not so much because of the bowling, which was in the hands of the steady Fernando and the waryward Maharoof, but because the field was set to deny their pet shots.

Time and again both openers, and Gilchrist in particular, unfurled drives and cuts that were intercepted by the fielders and, after a bit of that, you could sense frustration beginning to build.

What Lanka lacked at that point was a bowler who could cash in. In the normal course, Lanka begins with Malinga and Vaas, and Fernando coming behind them is ideally poised to bowl a few tight overs and keep the pressure up. Here, Fernando had to lead the attack, and there was precious little of it, quality-wise, to lead.

Enter Arnold. It was almost exit Arnold - Hayden greeted him with two big strides, an elongation of the arms that got the bat under the ball, and a smash that lifted it clean over extra cover for six. Jayawardene pushed his long off deep, and brought long on in, well inside the circle. Hayden decided to punish that field, looked to go over long on, and mishit - the turn, plus the shut face of the bat, combined to squirt the ball in the direction of Dilshan, at midwicket, instead (41/30; 76/1).

In his next over, Arnold removed Gilchrist who, on the day, was only an approximation of his best. The delivery was fired in outside off, turning in; Gilchrist sought to defend but was late getting his bat in line, and he ended up taking it on the pad in line with the stumps (30/49).

That brought Ponting and Clarke together, and with the power plays in place, both batsmen began playing shots from the get go. Clarke produced two fluid cover drives off Fernando; Ponting skipped down the track to take Bandara on, and crashed him down the ground, to bring up the 100 of the Australian innings off just 116 deliveries.

Clarke in fact seemed to be in a mood; his driving through covers and extra covers was increasingly eye-catching. That one drive too many, though, led to his downfall - Clarke came skipping down the track to Bandara looking to go through extra cover, but failed to keep the shot down owing to not quite getting to the pitch; Dilshan went low and dived forward to hold an inch or less off the turf. Clarke wasn't sure the catch was clean, but the umpires were, and that was that (23/31; 126/3).

At the halfway mark, Australia has the chase in control with Ponting looking in immaculate form. Sri Lanka has settled on its spinners to slow things down and try to apply the choke - the question seems to be, how long can they prevent Australia from going past the mark?

Australia progression: 1-25 overs

5 overs: 18/0 @ 3.60 (Hayden 4/11; Gilchrist 9/21); Required rate 4.64

10 overs: 59/0 @ 5.90 (Hayden 26/22; Gilchrist 27/41); Required rate 4.20

15 overs: 85/2 @ 5.66 (Clarke 1/3; Ponting 6/12); Required rate 4.05

20 overs: 114/2 @ 5.70 (Clarke 15/19; Ponting 21/26); Required rate 3.76

25 overs: 132/3 @ 5.28 (Symonds 5/10; Ponting 26/34); Required rate 3.80

Overs 26-43

The second half of the run chase proved absurdly one sided. Ricky Ponting, who had started off with absolute felicity, changed tack once Clarke was out and settled down at one end, letting his partner do all the hard work.

For Andrew Symonds, nothing could be more welcome, seemingly, than a diet of slow bowling: he reached well forward and slog swept, stayed back and cut or flicked, or moved forward and drove, all with absolute power and a laser-guided sense of placement.

Ponting for the most part worked the singles around; every now and again, as if to remind the Lankans that he lurked, Nemisis-like, he uncorked a cut or pull or whip that rocketed the ball to the boundary.

Sri Lanka had only one problem, and that a giant one - it did not have one bowler who could play enforcer, while the others worked around the pressure he was creating. A Dilshan, Jayasuriya or Bandara bowling with Murali is one thing; those bowlers, without the premier off spinner, proved another and far easier thing for the Aussies.

Interestingly, Jayawardene opted not to let the Aussies get a good look at the only one of his bowlers who got wickets. Arnold had gone 4-0-20-2, and was posing the occasional problem, when his captain whipped him out of the firing line and sent him off to patrol the deep; clearly, the intent here (as it was, most likely, in the dropping of Vaas and Murali) was to ensure the Aussie batsmen didn't get to `practice' against the bowlers they will face when/if these two teams meet again.

Even the fielders opted for the most part to stay in place, without really attacking the ball. All told, the game meandered to the inevitable finish, with Australia sealing it by seven wickets and plenty of overs to spare.

The game could possibly have got tighter if Sri Lanka had done better with the bat; 226 was never going to be enough, even less so with a second string bowling lineup taking the field. Neither side got anything much out of the game - Australia confirmed its position at the top of the table; Sri Lanka were going into the semis anyway, and what had the potential to be a crackerjack contest petered out into a tame finish.

You reckon that is what Lanka wanted all along?

Progression: 26-40

30 overs: 160/3 @ 5.33; (Ponting 40/49; Symonds 18/25); Required rate 3.35

35 overs: 190/3 @ 5.42 (Ponting 46/59; Symonds 42/45); Required rate 2.46

40 overs: 217/3 @ 5.42 (Ponting 58/73; Symonds 56/62); Required rate 1.00.

The Cup: The Complete Coverage

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