Sri Lanka were clearly holding back themselves in their Super Eights Match against the Champs at St George’s. Mahela’s team was blasted by experts for not going all out in their second last game against Australia in which they were outplayed totally. It began with the resting of key players and then bowling far too many loose deliveries. The Aussies were professional enough and they grabbed the opportunity to continue their World Cup winning streak which is now 20 straight wins since the 2003 World Cup.
Mahela Jayawardene won the toss and elected to bat. But what was more surprising was the omission of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan for this game. Nuwan Kulasekara and Malinga Bandara were drafted into the side while Lasith Malinga wasn’t hurried into the playing XI. Aussies made a change in getting back Nathan Bracken whose bowling is tailor-made for the slow and low track at Grenada, he came in for Stuart Clark. The start from Shaun Tait was a horrible one, spraying the ball on both sides to give away lot of extras but Nathan Bracken corrected things and SL soon found themselves in a bother at 27 for 3 in the 7th over. Their downfall started when Jayasuriya got a peach of an incoming delivery from the left armer which saw him dead in front of the stumps. The next wicket went to McGrath with Sangakkara given lbw to a delivery that was going over the stumps. Upul Tharanga was caught in the slips poking at an away going delivery from Bracken that had some extra bounce.
The chips were down and it required a responsible innings from Mahela Jayawardene who was with Chamara Silva. Both batsmen showed immense patience, they were also helped by the fact that Ponting was using McGrath and Bracken sparingly which saw spin being introduced in the 16th over with the third powerplay held back. That allowed the partnership to grow, Mahela did get his runs at a fair clip but Chamara was playing a lot too many dead bat strokes which were going nowhere. He just cashed in on the loose deliveries that had come his way. Both these right handers got Lanka to 167 for 4 with Chamara Silva caught off a top edge in a sweep shot off Hogg. Silva got 64 having played 107 balls with the help of 6 fours. The problem for Sri Lanka at this stage was that they also lost the other set batsman – Mahela Jayawardene after a couple of overs. The skipper lunged forward only to be beaten by a wrong one from Hogg and a clever stumping was done by Gilchrist, which was his 50th of his career!
The other two specialist batsmen – Dilshan and Arnold played disappointing shots to be dismissed by Shaun Tait. All of a sudden, the Lankans found themselves in the danger of getting bowled out as they slipped to a new low of 183 for 7 and then 184 for 8 with plenty of deliveries left. It was the ninth wicket partnership of 34 in 33 balls between Maharoof and Bandara that revived the situation. Bandara got 17 with two sixes – one heave against McGrath and another one being a slog against Michael Clarke. Maharoof smashed two fours off the final over from Bracken before he holed out. Maharoof got 25 from 22 with 4 fours as SL posted 226 in 49.4 overs. Bracken had outstanding figures of 4 for 19 in 9.4 overs including three maidens. Tait, McGrath and Hogg picked up two wickets each. The major worry for Ponting was Shaun Tait who got plundered for 68 runs in his 10 overs. His first six overs conceded 51 runs with no wickets at all!
In the second half, Dilhara Fernando started the first over which conceded 11 runs. But Dilhara and Maharoof pulled it back later with Gilchrist and Hayden just working their way in the middle. Hayden was soon going over the top and playing aggressive shots while Gilchrist was being very quiet, going only after the bad deliveries. Once Hayden got going it wasn’t easy to stop him, two sixes sailed out of the ground but his innings came to a premature end, caught at mid wicket off Arnold. Mahela Jayawardene’s gamble of bowling the part time off spin of Arnold during the second powerplay paid off further when he got a complacent Gilchrist out lbw to an arm ball. Hayden had got 41 from 30 with 5 fours and 2 sixes while Gilchrist made 30 from 49 with 4 fours. The openers were gone with 79 on the board.
The new pair of Ponting and Michael Clarke kept themselves busy as they took advantage of anything that was off the target. They got lot of half volleys and short deliveries from the bowlers including both pacers and the spinners. However Clarke spoilt his start as he was caught brilliantly by a forward diving Dilshan at covers off the bowling of Malinga Bandara. Clarke made 23 which was helped with 4 boundaries, his exit saw Australia at 126 for 3. New man Andrew Symonds enjoyed his stay in the middle with some powerful shots. He stayed with Ponting to see his side gallop to a 7-wicket win with 44 balls to spare. Symonds got his first fifty of the tournament, he got 63 from 71 with 5 fours and 2 sixes. Ponting didn’t get much strike during this unbroken partnership of 106, he still got 66 from 80 with 4 fours and a six off Bandara that ended the match. Nathan Bracken was the choice for the Man of the Match. Sri Lankans wouldn’t be disappointed, they never looked like they were playing for a win. Perhaps they preferred to lose this match to be the third semi finalists which would avoid a conflict with the Aussies in the Semi Finals at St Lucia! Clever thinking may be, but not going according to the spirit of the game.