Australia Lift a Notch - VB Series - Australia v Sri Lanka

Cricket News 15/01/03

Report By Jon Cocks

In a tense, tightly balanced struggle, Australia prevailed at the Gabba, the second-innings run-chase underpinned by two substantial partnerships – the opening stand of 78 between Hayden and Maher and the fifth wicket union between Bevan and Lehmann that raised 72. Man of the Match Michael Bevan (45*) jumped down the wicket to loft Aravinda de Silva down to the long on rope to rein in the Sri Lankan total with seven balls to spare, steering Australia to a tight four-wicket win.

Sri Lankan skipper Jayasuriya won the toss in the afternoon and elected to bat, but his team was never able to break the shackles against a tight, disciplined Australian bowling and fielding performance on a pitch that seemed good for batting earlier, but slowed down as the match progressed. Other than the 112 run fourth wicket partnership between Marvan Attapattu and Mahela Jayawardene, only some last ditch straight hitting from Kumar Sangakkara late in the innings lifted Sri Lanka to 9-211.

Glenn McGrath (10-2-33-1) returned from his back strain with a shortened run that did not affect his metronomic accuracy. Jimmy Maher deputised competently behind the stumps, as Adam Gilchrist took a well-deserved break and Brad Williams stood in for Andy Bichel, who was out with a shoulder injury. Darren Lehmann returned after his illness to round out the top order.

From the outset it was clear that Australia had focused on lifting its fielding, which had slipped in recent games below its normal deft brilliance. The first manifestation of this improvement came when Lehmann affected a beautiful stop at mid wicket in the first over. Then Watson’s throw broke through, beating the dangerous Jayasuriya (6) home. In the tenth over, Hogg ran out Tillekaratne (7) and at 2-30, the Sri Lankans were in need of some stability. Instead, Lee fired a ferocious lifter in over Aravinda’s off stump, caught the edge and Martyn’s catch at slip removed the 1996 World Cup hero for a golden duck.

Attapattu was settled in with Jayawardene and the former’s innings featured textbook cover and on drives from his classical upright stance, although he lofted a couple of pull shots in between leg side fieldsmen. Jayawardene took very few chances and compiled his runs by working the bowling carefully into the openings that developed in the field as the partnership grew.

Brad Williams (10-0-33-1) bowled fast and straight and excelled behind the stumps at the bowler’s end, fielding a number of sharp returns in Australia’s several near run outs of the Sri Lankan batsmen. Brett Lee (10-1-41-1) at first change attacked incessantly and neither batsmen felt comfortable, as he also maintained a good line.

Brad Hogg’s first spell of five overs went for 28, as he didn’t get his line right and bowled without enough variation, but Watson (8-0-32-0) stayed full and straight to do well in his first spell. Darren Lehmann (0-17) bowled two overs, but the batsman were able to work him consistently into the gaps.

The big partnership was broken in McGrath’s first over back, when he had Attapattu (70) caught by Ponting at mid wicket, top-edging an attempted pull. The return of Brad Hogg (10-1-38-2) realised a much better five overs, as he began landing wrong’uns, one of which clean-bowled Jayawardene (56) and another removing the dangerous Russell Arnold (3).

At 6-173, 200 looked a distant dream, but the good late order hitting from Sangakkara (42 from 42 balls) inflated the total belatedly in the frenetic final overs. Muralitharan (0) attempted a suicidal run from his first ball to give the batsman-keeper the strike, and Ponting was untroubled to gather at mid on, run in and dislodge the bails to catch him well short.

The initial Australian reply might have had Channel Nine programmers checking the vaults for something to screen in the last hour of the scheduled telecast, when the total had passed 70 in the twelfth over, courtesy of a six that Maher hooked over Fine Leg. Both openers looked to attack, but Hayden (42) was particularly voracious, given his recent run of low scores.

The introduction of Muralitharan (10-1-27-4) changed all that. Maher (30) was first to go, leaping down the wicket, missing and being stumped sensationally by Sangakkara, who dived wide to his left and threw down the stumps while off balance. Hayden top-edged an attempted sweep to Fernando and Martyn chopped one onto his stumps.

This brought Darren Lehmann to the crease, but Ponting (15) was stumped form the bowling of Aravinda and – as they say in the Commbox – it was ‘Game On’ at 4-103 from exactly 25 overs. Initially, Bevan and Lehmann scratched around in the crease against Murali, but Jayasuriya removed his trump card with three overs to spare and the Australian batsmen set about reconstructing the home team’s reply.

Lehmann (38) began to look for his trademark cut shot and managed a couple of boundaries through point, while both batsmen looked to nudge the singles. Jayasuriya (3-0-17-0) sought to check the momentum, rotating Vaas (10-1-38-0), Dilhara (10-0-48-0) and Buddhika (7-0-32-0) in short spells, while alternating between the off spin of Aravinda (6.5-0-31-1) and Russel Arnold (2-0-12-0), and saving himself and Murali’s final three overs for the climax.

While Sri Lanka fought hard, the run-rate never exceeded five an over. A loss to Australia would make the match in Adelaide on the 17th of January a virtual cut-throat semi-final. But while Murali still had overs in hand, the game remained in the balance. Then he strained a quadricep, chasing a ball to the boundary and had to leave the field for treatment. Australia looked to have broken the resistance of the visitors, but a brilliant return from Russell Arnold caught Lehmann a centimetre short, trying to take a second from a ball worked to deep backward point, with 40 needed from 62 balls.

Vaas returned, bowled a stump-to-stump maiden and the pressure built again. Murali hobbled back onto the field to bowl his final two overs from three short steps, such was the Sri Lankan desperation to steal this match. Shane Watson succumbed to the pressure, top edging to mid wicket for Tillekaratne to dive forward and take a great pressure finger-tip catch, bringing Brad Hogg to the wicket with 30 need from 38 balls.

It is in these situations that Michael Bevan truly excels. Other than one nasty moment in which Hogg hesitated and the Sri Lankan fielder threw to the wrong end, Bevan was able to steer Australia home to sew up a VB Finals appearance with two games in hand.

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