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Australia Through to World Cup Final After Beating Sri Lanka

World Cup Cricket News 19/03/03

Report By Jon Cocks

If ever there was a pitch in South Africa on which Sri Lanka might have prospered against Australia, this one in Port Elizabeth was it. Although it had received assiduous attention throughout the week from the curator as well as World Cup officials, after widespread concern over its suitability for such an important fixture, it was still a low and slow replica of home conditions for the Sri Lankans.

Ponting won the toss and batted, mindful of the forecasts for rain that eventually came to wash out the last 11.5 overs of the Sri Lankan innings. Unlike the storm clouds of a Shakespearean drama, though, these ones just ended up being cold water on very faint Sri Lankan hopes. 90 runs were needed from 71 balls with just three wickets in hand.

This time Australia was handed a soggy 48-run victory under the Duckworth-Lewis system. The match was over, not with a bang but with a whimper, surely a sad way for the Sri Lankans to emulate the1999 South Africans, strutting and fretting their last hour on the World Cup stage before bowing out to Australia.

Australia, having successfully defended 208 against New Zealand a week before on that same ground, clawed and scratched its way to only a moderate 7-212, one less than its total – when batting first – against South Africa four years in the classic tied World Cup Semi Final. On this featherbed pitch against Australia’s combination of ferocious pace, accurate seam and probing spin, the asking rate of 4.26 an over proved too demanding.

Sri Lanka benefited early from an extraordinary piece of sportsmanship from Adam Gilchrist (22), who walked, despite being given not out by Umpire Koertzen to an Aravinda delivery that touched his bat and ballooned off the pad for a catch at the wicket. The target might have been significantly steeper had Gilchrist accepted the benefit of the umpire’s doubt.

Gilchrist had taken two fours and six from Gunaratne’s first two overs, as once again the Australians stormed from the blocks at seven an over, comfortable with Lehmann moving to four and Symonds to five in the absence of the injured Martyn. The Sri Lankan decision to omit Dilhara Fernando and stack the side with batsmen began to look good after Gilchrist’s dismissal and Aravinda de Silva entered the attack to bowl the sixth over.

The veteran – in his ODI swansong match – immediately restricted scoring and Ponting (2) hit through a slower leg cutter from Vaas (10-1-34-3) to give Jayasuriya an easy catch at cover. Hayden (20) had looked very solid, playing the sweep, cut and pull, but Vaas removed him, drawing the shot that gave a catch to Tillekaratne and at 3-51 in the thirteenth over, Australia was in trouble.

Enter Andrew Symonds (91*), to begin a 93-run stand for the fourth wicket with Darren Lehmann (36). The slow men Aravinda (10-0-36-2), Jayasuriya (10-0-42-2) and Muralitharan (10-0-29-0) all had a spell, as Lehmann and Symonds pushed singles to men set deep on both sides of the wicket, daring Jayasuriya to bring them in.

Gunaratne (8-0-60-0) returned after his first singularly unsuccessful spell, but – beneficiary of a missed stumping chance by Sangakkara when he was on 33 - Symonds loosened up against the extra pace and took successive boundaries from Jayasuriya to go past fifty.

The moment that Australia must have known that the match was in its keeping - if it didn’t panic – came when Jayasuriya spun a ball very sharply out of the rough to induce an inside edge from Darren Lehmann onto his off stump. With the grip and turn on show, Hogg would surely prosper and the seamers would be very hard to get away.

Bouyed by breaking the big stand, Jayasuriya trapped Bevan, caught behind from the first ball of his next over, but Hogg (8) averted the hat-trick. However, he didn’t last long – stumped by Sangakkara off de Silva and neither did Harvey (7), who edged Vaas to the keeper. At 7-175 in the 44th over, the Sri Lankans had hit back hard.

However, Symonds and Bichel (19*) made a run-a-ball off the remaining 37 deliveries in an unbeaten eighth wicket partnership that smashed 16 from Gunaratne’s final over – the 49th. Bichel played a lofted straight drive and Atapattu leapt into the air at long off – Aussie Rules style - but couldn’t hook in the catch and the shot registered six instead.

Instead of weathering the storm of Cyclone Lee and the el-Nino effect of McGrath, the Sri Lankan dressing room doors began revolving, after the initial flurry from Jayasuriya (17) and Atapattu (14). With Ponting going for the jugular, McGrath (7-1-20-1), Lee (8-0-35-3), Bichel (10-4-18-0) and Hogg (10-1-30-2) bowled all but 3.1 of the overs.

Atapattu in particular was looking dangerous, although he cut Lee in the air to the third man rope, perilously close to Hayden in the gully. As a part of a fascinating duel with McGrath in the third over that finished fairly even, he was beaten twice, but played a couple of glorious shots that were stopped superbly in the field.

The Sri Lankan opener drove Lee to the mid off rope, but was then dropped by Hogg, a reasonably difficult chance low to his right. However, with his very next delivery, Lee put a 160.1 kph thunderbolt through Atapattu to obliterate his off stump. Undaunted, Jayasuriya whipped Lee into the mid wicket crowd with a trademark flick of the wrists.

Just when it looked like Sri Lanka was very much in with a chance, Jayasuriya surrendered rather tamely, top edging McGrath, a floater taken easily by Symonds at backward square leg. Lee removed a tentative Tillakaratne (3) in his next over, caught by Gilchrist. Aravinda drove Lee to the rope, but the paceman removed Gunawardene (1) in the same over, taken well by Ponting at slip and Sri Lanka slumped to 4-43.

Andy Bichel’s amazing run continued. Replacing Lee and coming on to bowl the fourteenth over, he continued his follow-through from his first ball and fielded the nudge into the leg side infield by Sangakkara (39*). Without breaking stride, he brilliantly ran out Aravinda de Silva (11) with a direct hit from about ten metres, thirty degrees to the left of the striker’s end stumps. At 5-51, the Sri Lankan dream had become a nightmare.

Bichel conceded just one run from his first five overs of full and straight fast medium and Brad Hogg settled into a probing spell after a loose beginning, removing Jayawardene (5) and Arnold (3) and reducing Sri Lanka to a lamentable 7-76. Although Sangakkara and Vaas (21*) put on an unbeaten 47 for the eighth wicket, the rain came with Sri Lanka’s run-rate a whole run per over short of Duckworth-Lewis-calculated success.

Seemingly invincible, Australia sailed into the Final after its sixteenth successive ODI victory, surely red-hot favourites to successfully defend its 1999 World Cup crown.

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