Some consolation

Nathan Bracken bowled cleverly to scalp four Lankan wickets.-AP

Before they headed for the flight home, the Lankans had at least something to cheer about. A win over the Aussies, even in a dead rubber game, is a victory that counts, writes S. Dinakar.

It’s astonishing how some special cricketers make the pitch appear so much easier than it actually is. The final CB ODI series league game at the MCG was an example.

The surface for the match was slow as it has been for most part this summer. Stroke-making was definitely not easy.

After the game, Australian captain Ricky Ponting said the “ball had tended to skid through on the surface.” The Punter suffered on the wicket and he knows.

The nature of the pitch hardly made a difference to Adam Gilchrist. On the same wicket where the rest struggled, he smashed 83 off just 50 balls with 11 fours and two sixes.

As long as Gilchrist waltzed, this appeared the easiest pitch in the world. Great batsmen have the ability to make the conditions look easier than what they really are. Gilly’s relaxed stance, his bat speed, the swing of the willow and his hand-eye coordination were in place as he stepped on the accelerator.

He drilled holes in the infield and struck the ball over it. Here was someone enjoying his cricket, and the challenges that come with it. The MCG crowd roared in appreciation of a hero.

Gilchrist departed when his lofted hit down the ground was brilliantly held by Lasith Malinga. After his exit, Australia collapsed in a bizzare manner.

Sri Lanka signed off from the CB ODI tri-series salvaging some pride with a 13-run win. Jayawardene won the toss and kept his nerve when Gilchrist blazed away.

Perfectly good deliveries were put away ruthlessly by Gilly.

Gilchrist was picking the length so quickly that he was in a position for an attacking stroke off either foot earlier than most batsmen. The man’s 36 and is just two, possibly, three games away from retirement, but can still swing the fortunes of a game. This time, however, he finished on the losing side.

Despite whipping up a memorable innings in his last game for Australia at the MCG, Gilchrist was harsh on himself for the manner of his dismissal. He said cricket taught lessons even to those at the end of their careers.

But then, Gilchrist had done his job. The fault lay with the others who followed him. Their technique was under the scanner.

This has been a season where the Australian batsmen have been vulnerable to incoming deliveries. Skipper Ponting and Michael Clarke perished to such balls. The Lankan pacemen Nuwan Kulasekara and Ishara Amerasinghe brought the ball in sharply.

The opening pair of Gilchrist and James Hopes — Matthew Hayden was rested — put on 107 in just 14.4 overs when Muttiah Muralitharan castled Hopes. Australia collapsed to 123 for six in the 24th over.

There was resistance from the lower order, Brett Lee in particular. A smart piece of captaincy ended the defiant last wicket stand. Lee missed a pull off Sanath Jayasuriya’s left-arm spin and the game concluded in Lankan smiles.

Said Ponting, “The defeat will sharpen us up for the finals.” But then, the Aussies have been seen to be vulnerable on the chase.

This has been a season where the Aussie bowlers have outshone the batsmen. Left-arm bowler Nathan Bracken’s four-wicket haul went in vain. He bowled cleverly, changed his pace and zeroed in on the right areas. Sanath Jayasuriya was done in by Bracken’s extra bounce.

Mitchell Johnson combined with a brilliant Michael Hussey at first slip to send back key batsman Kumar Sangakkara. The Lankans were 61 for four but skipper Jayawardene batted well. He is someone, light on feet, who can work the ball into the empty areas.

Tillakaratne Dilshan (62, 70b, 3x4) too put a price on the wicket. Jayawardene and Dilshan are capable of striking the ball harder and longer, but produced the right innings for the situation. The out-of-form Charama Silva chipped in as well.

In the night, the Aussie middle-order hardly displayed a fight. Before they headed for the flight home, the Lankans had at least something to cheer about. A win over the Aussies, even in a dead rubber game, is a victory that counts.

THE SCORES

CB Series, 12th match, Australia v Sri Lanka, Melbourne, February 29. Sri Lanka won by 13 runs.

Sri Lanka: D. Perera lbw b Lee 5; S. Jayasuriya c Hussey b Bracken 23; K. Sangakkara c Hussey b Johnson 11; M. Jayawardene lbw b Hogg 50; C. Kapugedera c Gilchrist b Hopes 2; T. Dilshan (run out) 62; C. Silva c Johnson b Bracken 35; N. Kulasekara b Bracken 14; L. Malinga c Hopes b Lee 0; M. Muralitharan b Bracken 1; I. Amerasinghe (not out) 5; Extras (lb-1, w-8, nb-4) 13. Total (in 50 overs) 221.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-32, 3-42, 4-61, 5-125, 6-185, 7-206, 8-208, 9-212.

Australia bowling: Lee 10-1-55-2; Bracken 10-3-29-4; Johnson 10-1-54-1; Hopes 8-0-32-1; Hogg 10-1-33-1; Clarke 2-0-17-0.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Malinga b Kulasekara 83; J. Hopes b Muralitharan 28; R. Ponting lbw b Kulasekara 1; M. Clarke b Amerasinghe 0; A. Symonds c Sangakkara b Amerasinghe 0; M. Hussey b Kapugedera 5; B. Haddin lbw b Malinga 7; B. Hogg lbw b Muralitharan 21; B. Lee b Jayasuriya 37; M. Johnson c Jayawardene b Amerasinghe 3; N. Bracken (not out) 14; Extras (lb-3, w-6) 9. Total (in 48.1 overs) 208.

Fall of wickets: 1-107, 2-113, 3-115, 4-115, 5-115, 6-123, 7-142, 8-158, 9-173.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 9-1-48-1; Kulasekara 10-3-36-2; Amerasinghe 10-2-44-3; Muralitharan 10-0-42-2; Kapugedera 6-0-24-1; Perera 3-0-11-0; Jayasuriya 0.1-0-0-1.