One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Match Report: Australia Vs. Sri Lanka (Semi-Final 1, Port Elizabeth)

In the end, it was a no contest, really. Sri Lanka can only blame themselves for the situation that they found themselves in when the rain came at Port Elizabeth. They played good solid cricket for the first half of the match in which they had the Aussies under the cosh. But, when they came out to bat, they looked every bit of the side that lost to a team like Kenya in the preliminary rounds.

It began well for Ricky Ponting when he won the important toss and promptly elected to bat on a pitch that was better but still slower than any of the pitches in this World Cup. Sri Lanka had gone in with an amazing eight specialist batsmen and only two seamers. The Lankan side was packed with spinners who would take advantage of the slow pitch. Pulasthi Gunaratne, one of the two seamers went for plenty as Gilchrist took special liking to him. As Jayasuriya turned to DeSilva to stem the flow of runs, the oldest member of the Lankan team immediately struck by removing the dangerous Gilchrist. Adam Gilchrist, today, did something that is as common in modern cricket as finding a live dodo. He "walked" after the umpire had pronounced him "not-out". Hats off to Gilchrist! But his wicket seemed to turn the tap off. Ricky Ponting is known to push very hard at the ball, especially when he is new at the crease. That had proved to be his undoing in India against Harbhajan, and that is what turned out to be his undoing today, as he pushed at a slower ball but only found the fielder at short cover. Hayden followed soon after and the "invincible" Aussies suddenly looked fragile. The runs had slowed down to a trickle as a clueless Hogg got out next. Then came the partnership that put Australia back in contention in the match. Darren Lehmann and Andrew Symonds played sensible cricket and resurrected the crumbling edifice of the Aussie batting. Symonds looked completely self-assured and went on, eventually, to score an unbeaten 91. When Lehmann and Symonds were batting, it seemed that a score of at least 230 was possible. But two quick strikes by Jayasuriya sent Lehmann and Bevan back off consecutive deliveries and the Aussies slumped again. It was only due to the increasingly dependable Bichel and the clinical Symonds that Australia just about managed to cross the 200 run mark and finish up with 212 on board.

212 runs to chase on a wicket that looked very much like the ones in Colombo and eight specialist batsmen to do that job. Sri Lanka had many things going for them when they stepped out to chase the target. They got off to a brilliant start as Atapattu played the role of the aggressor, striking the ball cleanly. Jayasuriya joined in too with an amazing six off a casual flick of his pads. Then came a fast, furious and straight-as-a-dart delivery from Brett Lee, clocking 160.1 Kmph which went through Atapattu's defences knocking the off-stump clean out of the ground. The procession had begun. Sanath Jayasuriya looked decidedly uncomfortable against the pace of Lee. Finally, he spooned a simple catch off a slower delivery. The next two wickets, those of Gunawardane and Tillekaratne, were results of horrendous shots. Tillekaratne played a booming cover drive far away from his body only to find Gilchrist pouching a regulation catch. Gunawardane played probably the worst shot of the entire match as he veritably guided a ball to the second slip. Then came a moment of brilliance by Bichel when he ran towards mid-wicket after his delivery and picked up the ball dropped there by the batsman, turned and threw the stumps down at the striker's end. Aravinda DeSilva running in an international match for probably the last time was more than a metre short of the crease. He did not need the third umpire's decision as he kept running towards the dressing room. That brought Mahela Jayawardane to the crease. Mahela's form has been so dismal in this tournament that perhaps only Inzamam can stake claim to the worst form award if ever there is one. He however got a bad decision when the ball that he got out to had hit his elbow rather than his bat. But as they say, when you are having a bad run, things invariably go wrong at every opposrtunity. Next in was Russel Arnold. Arnold is considered as the Sri Lankan 'finisher'. But he has had a bad World Cup and this fact was evident as he could hardly get the ball off the square. Finally he could not keep quiet any longer and swept the ball to the deep square leg boundary where Brett Lee pouched him comfortably. All the advantage of having eight batsmen in the side was erased completely when the Sri Lankan score read 76 for 7. Then Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Sangakkara played some sedate but solid cricket to take Sri Lanka to 123/7 in 38.1 overs when heavy rains suddenly lashed Port Elizabeth and the players left the field, never to return. The giant scoreboard showed the Duckworth-Lewis computation for Sri Lanka to win. It indicated that Sri Lanka needed to be at 172 in 38.1 overs to beat Australia. Sri Lanka were miles behind.

And thus, the mighty Australians escaped a scare yet again in their bid to defend their World Championship. It was Sri Lanka's golden chance to sneak in a victory. But they could only do their job half-way. The second half belonged to the Australians as they underscored their champions tag once more. But, come to think of it, apart from the two flashes of brilliance by the Aussies (Lee clean bowling Atapattu and Bichel running out DeSilva), it was the Sri Lankan disaster with the bat that really became their undoing.

Thus, Australia will await, at the Wanderers, the winner of the India-Kenya match on Thursday. Exactly as I had predicted in my preview!

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