Sri Lanka done in by pressure

Michael Hussey made a crafty half-century.-AP

The Aussie bowlers not only restricted Sri Lanka but also struck crucial blows. And when rain ended the contest, the islanders were behind in the Duckworth & Lewis calculations, writes S. Dinakar.

On most occasions, a team at 77 for four in 29.3 overs, while chasing 185 for victory, has a fair chance of nailing the chase in a One-Day International. One partnership could do the trick. The circumstances, however, were different at the MCG when Australia and Sri Lanka clashed.

The pitch was sluggish and the batsmen found it difficult to impart any pace on the ball and penetrate the field.

The Australian bowling, backed by outstanding fielding, not only restricted the Lankan batsmen but also struck crucial blows.

The attack gave little away and the Lankan batting came under tremendous pressure when rain ended the contest.

So much so that the Duckworth & Lewis calculations gave the host a 24-run win with a bonus point. The Aussies are through to the finals with 22 points from six games.

The nature of the MCG pitch meant a 98-ball unbeaten 64 was a match-winning effort. Michael Hussey’s effort lacked flair, but it was a crafty knock by a man who can adapt to the conditions. From the context of the league phase, this was a significant innings.

The surface at the MCG demanded application from the batsmen. And stroke-making called for precise footwork and an eye for placements. Hussey was not found wanting.

“It was a slow wicket and batting was not easy. The odd delivery tended to take off too and it was difficult to pierce the field. I would say this was one of my best one-day innings. I thought a total of 184 was defendable,” said Hussey.

The Lankans suffered major blows early in the chase. Sanath Jayasuriya nicked a delivery from Stuart Clark that was leaving him. The nagging Clark used his off and leg-cutters well.

Sangakkara, once again, offered resistance but the nature of the wicket prevented him from launching into the bowling. Despite initial flourish, Mahela Jayawardene succumbed to left-arm paceman Nathan Bracken’s probing line around the off-stump.

The pressure built on Sangakkara — the threat of rain was real, Lanka was behind in D & L calculations and the Aussie fielding was tight. The in-form Lankan vice-captain attempted a stroke across the line against medium pacer James Hopes and had to walk back.

“I think we have let ourselves down in the competition,” said Sangakkara.

Given that rain was forecast for the evening, Jayawardene had a tough call to make after winning the toss. There was bound to be some assistance for the pacemen early on, but chasing under lights with inclement weather predicted for the evening was bound to be tough.

Despite the Lankan batting lacking depth, Jayawardene retained the five-man attack. The pacemen did not take long before striking. Adam Gilchrist charged the wily Chaminda Vaas and saw his stumps in a shambles. Lasith Malinga clocked impressive speeds and Farveez Maharoof mixed them up cleverly. He bowled around the off-stump, switched his line well to the right and the left handers.

In the previous game, Maharoof was short and wide. In this match, he was on target with a fuller length or hitting the deck around the off-stump. He removed Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds.

Michael Clarke put the innings on the rails with the left-handed Hussey. Clarke (50, 69b, 4x4) displayed sound footwork and the ability to work the ball into the gaps. He read the situation and the pitch well; there was not really any pace on the ball for the batsmen to exploit. The Pup is gaining in stature.

Towards the end of his key innings, Clarke stepped down the track to send Lasith Malinga to the long-on fence.

Soon, an impressive Muralitharan’s curling full toss consumed him. The off-spinner bowled with flight, spin and guile. At the other end, Hussey was solid and clever.

Under the lights, the Aussie bowlers beat the Lankan batsmen and the rain.

THE SCORES

CB Series, ninth match, Australia v Sri Lanka, Melbourne, February 22. Australia won by 24 runs (D/L method).

Australia: A. Gilchrist b Vaas 6; M. Hayden c Silva b Maharoof 23; R. Ponting (run out) 11; M. Clarke c & b Muralitharan 50; A. Symonds c Sangakkara b Maharoof 4; M. Hussey (not out) 64; J. Hopes st. Sangakkara b Muralitharan 11; B. Hogg c Dilshan b Malinga 4; M. Johnson (not out) 6; Extras (b-2, w-3) 5. Total (for seven wkts., in 50 overs) 184.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-39, 3-44, 4-54, 5-144, 6-166, 7-173.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-1-34-1; Malinga 10-1-44-1; Maharoof 10-1-20-2; Muralitharan 10-0-37-2; Amerasinghe 10-0-47-0.

Sri Lanka: D. Perera lbw b Clark 1; S. Jayasuriya c Ponting b Clark 0; K. Sangakkara c Symonds b Hopes 22; M. Jayawardene c Gilchrist b Bracken 27; C. Silva (not out) 16; T. Dilshan (not out) 9; Extras (lb-1, w-1) 2. Total (for four wkts., in 29.3 overs) 77.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-3, 3-42, 4-64.

Australia bowling: Bracken 6-1-13-1; Clark 5-1-8-2; Johnson 7-1-17-0; Hopes 7-2-23-1; Hogg 4.3-1-15-0.