Ponting gets going

RICKY PONTING promised to play bright cricket after the off-colour batting display against England in the last league match at Port Elizabeth. The Australians are generally not off the mark when they make statements and Ponting carried out his plans to near perfection.

G. VISWANATH

RICKY PONTING promised to play bright cricket after the off-colour batting display against England in the last league match at Port Elizabeth. The Australians are generally not off the mark when they make statements and Ponting carried out his plans to near perfection.

Ricky Ponting acknowledges the cheers for his superb century. -- Pic. REUTERS-

The men in yellow hammered the Sri Lankans and if their domination was not total, it was essentially because Aravinda de Silva demonstrated his resolve to leave Centurion only after playing some delightful shots. The meaningful part of the Super Six league match was over after Sanath Jayasuriya left the scene with a broken hand and Brett Lee then picked up a handful of wickets.

The Australian captain himself was in the forefront of the onslaught that was actually started by his deputy, Adam Gilchrist. The Tasmanian had been less than formidable in his previous essays, after a half century against Pakistan in their Cup opener. In fact the Australian batting machine did not click at all after Andrew Symonds concentrated hard enough to bail his team out of trouble against Pakistan.

When their batsmen were not having a good time in the middle, their bowlers took charge. Jason Gillespie pushed himself hard against India and emerged with a super spell. Then Glenn McGrath skittled out the Namibians and finally Andy Bichel trampled over the Englishmen on an under-par pitch at St. George's Park.

So Ponting and the rest of the dinkums felt it was time to move forward in full force. The start given by the left-handed opening pair in Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden was a foretaste of things to come. The duo put the Sri Lankan attack to the sword. Shots flew to all parts of the field. Defensive shots were played down the ground and attacking shots hit over the infield and over the rope. The tempo did not ease even after New Zealand's Billy Bowden gave the marching orders to Hayden, adjudging him caught at silly point.

Australia posted the first 50 on the board in 51 balls, in 35 minutes and with eight fours. Gilchrist completed a personal milestone of 5000 runs. The Australian openers were cruising when the ball went off Hayden's front pad to Hashan Tillekeratne at silly point. Professionals do not mind appealing for anything and it did not matter to offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan that the ball had gone off the pad. He was only waiting for a favourable verdict from umpire Bowden and that, too, came.

The run flow, however, picked up. Ponting played shots that proclaimed his class as a top-flight batsman. The second fifty of the innings came off 46 balls, in 28 minutes and with the addition of seven fours and a six. Gilchrist and Ponting were busy men scattering the field and running fast.

Ponting's counterpart, Sanath Jayasuriya, was helpless. The two batsmen in the middle dictated the bowling changes. By far the most impressive bowler for Sri Lanka, Chaminda Vaas, too suffered. Gilchrist offered a chance after he had crossed his half century, but Muralitharan did not accept it. The Australian captain also was let off by Kumara Sangakkara at 17 and 35.

The two Australians added 106 runs for the second wicket. The statisticians had a great day. Australia reached 150 in 99 minutes, in 150 balls. Gilchrist and Ponting raised the first 100 of their partnership in a little over an hour and at less than a run a ball. The Sri Lankans managed to break the partnership, thanks to a fine piece of work by Vaas, who ran out Gilchrist. The wicket-keeper-batsman's innings ended at 99, made in two hours off 88 balls and with 14 fours and two 6s.

After Gilchrist's exit, Ponting's innings dominated the show. Ponting's partnership with Damien Martyn progressed in quicker time, the first 50 of it coming in just 29 minutes and 43 balls. Ponting approached his century (114, 130m, 109b, 8x4, 4x6) with two sixes off Vaas. Martyn played the second fiddle (52, 58b, 1x4). The Sri Lankans managed to control the scoring rate in the last 10 overs, but were still going to find the target of 320 a stiff one.

Australia took the field without Jason Gillespie. He failed a fitness test for an injured tendon and was ruled out of the competition. His injury opened a fixed place for Andy Bichel in the team. But even before Bichel was introduced into the attack, Brett Lee's pace had removed Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene and struck a body-blow on captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who retired hurt after aggravating a thumb injury he first suffered while playing against the West Indies at Newlands.

Glenn McGrath dismissed Hashan Tillekeratne and soon the Sri Lankans were just about going through the motions. De Silva who bowled five overs for 36 runs, made amends with the bat, making an attractive 92 (94 balls, 9x4, 4x6), but the Sri Lankans were not really in the picture after conceding so many runs. McGrath's line and length were as usual superb. He finished his spell of 9.4 overs taking the wicket of Dilhara Fernando. Ian Harvey, Bichel, Brad Hogg and Lehmann bowled 28 overs during which the Sri Lankans garnered a few runs to avoid humiliation.

Ponting's second World Cup century (he had made 102 against the West Indies at Jaipur in 1995-96) won him the Man of the Match award, a gold wristwatch worth R 12,000 (approximately Rs. 60,000). He had led Australia to its 13th consecutive win in one-day internationals. No team has performed this feat.

The win by 96 runs gave Australia four more points and put it in the semifinal. "We always target players and that's what we did to Sanath Jayasuriya. We did not want to bowl wide to him. He scores a lot of runs in that point area. We would like to continue in the same form and would not like to take the foot off the pedal," said Ponting at the post-match press conference.

The scores:

Australia: A. Gilchrist (run out) 99; M. Hayden c Tillekeratne b Muralitharan 22; R. Ponting c Sangakkara b Fernando 114; D. Martyn b Fernando 52; D. Lehmann c De Silva b Fernando 10; I. Harvey (not out) 5; M. Bevan (not out) 1; Extras (lb-4, w-5, nb-7) 16; Total (for five wickets in 50 overs) 319.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-181, 3-293, 4-313, 5-314.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 8-0-59-0, Gunaratne 6-0-46-0, De Silva 5-0-36-0, Muralitharan 10-0-47-1, Arnold 2-0-21-0, Fernando 9-0-47-3, Jayasuriya 10-0-59-0.

Sri Lanka: M. Atapattu c & b Lee 16; S. Jayasuriya (retired hurt) 1; H. Tillekeratne b McGrath 21; M. Jayawardene c Gilchrist b Lee 0; A. De Silva c & b Hogg 92; R. Arnold lbw b Lee 1; K. Sangakkara (run out) 20; C. Vaas lbw b Hogg 21; M. Muralitharan c Lee b Lehmann 4; D. Fernando lbw b McGrath 9; P. Gunaratne (not out) 15; Extras (b-6, lb-8, w-6, nb-3) 23; Total (in 47.4 overs) 223.

Fall of wickets: 1-42, 2-46, 3-47, 4-48, 5-100, 6-144, 7-149, 8-203, 9-223.

Australia bowling: McGrath 9.4-1-25-2, Lee 10-1-52-3, Harvey 7-0-29-0, Bichel 7-1-32-0, Hogg 9-1-45-2, Lehmann 5-0-26-1.