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Sri Lanka spin out world champions

Colombo: Bring back the Waugh brothers, will be the cry back home. The Australians struggled and finally capitulated in alien conditions at the Premadasa Friday.

On an unusually hot and humid day, the visitors failed to take the advantage of batting first as the Sri Lankan spinners made full use of the turn and bounce on this slow wicket. The inexperience came to the fore as the top-order crumbled and it was left to the middle and late-order to do some justice to their world champions’ tag.

The Lankans made no hash of the target of 163. They survived fiery spells from the pace trio of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee and the guiles of Shane Warne. Their approach was professional and nothing really could stop them from setting up a final clash with India in the ICC Champions Trophy Sunday.

It was simply not the Australians’ day. Maravan Atapattu stayed on for a defiant 51 despite three lives, including twice by Matthew Hayden at first slip off consecutive balls from Shane Warne.

Sanath Jayasuriya had set the tone for the chase with a brisk 42 and they never looked back on way to the seven-wicket win.

“It’s disappointing and possibly the worst performance by us in a long time. We were simply outplayed in every aspect of the game,” admitted Ricky Ponting after the game.

The Australian skipper also pointed out that “the wicket was not ideal for one-day cricket.”

Sri Lanka went into the match with a well chalked-out plan. Once Jayasuriya found his opening bowlers struggling on this belter, he switched over to spin in as early as the sixth over of the innings and immediately forced the breakthrough. The move simply stumped the Aussies’ confidence and aggression.

“We knew the Aussies were not good against spin. So the spinners were brought in early. In fact, I had thought of opening with one spinner but later changed my mind,” said Jayasuriya.

The pressure started getting to the visitors despite the openers giving them a flying start. Hayden was dismissed off the fifth ball of Aravinda de Silva’s first over and Adam Gilchrist was dismissed in the very next over.

As Ponting and Darren Lehmann departed in quick succession, the Aussies were floored. They had never thought of such a disaster in their wildest dreams and it needed experience to overcome the odds. The home support was breathtaking and the Aussies found the going really tough.

Their plan of making optimum use of the first 15 overs had failed and it needed the coolness and maturity of someone like Steve Waugh to take them through. He has taken the side out of the rut on so many previous occasions and it would not come as a surprise if this match forced a rethink among the selectors about him.

Steve, in town for the Test series versus Pakistan that follows this tournament, had a wry smile on his face the other day, as someone asked him about his chances of playing in the one-day side. “Ask the selectors,” was his response.

If this game is considered the benchmark, it does seem that the team needs Steve’s presence in the World Cup in times of crisis. The conditions will obviously be more friendly in South Africa, but the competition will also be more intense. And the min-World Cup could just be their ideal learning experience.

It did come as some surprise as the Aussies played into the hands of the Lankans and ran themselves out. Damien Martyn and Michael Bevan did try some salvage operation but the latter became a victim of poor running judgement.

Only Shane Warne seemed to show some semblance of a resistance. He relied on the singles and the twos as the boundaries dried up. His 36 was the team’s highest and came off 69 balls and, more importantly, he shared a 46-run partnership for the eighth wicket with Brett Lee that enabled them to cross the 150-mark.

Sensing the Aussies’ weakness, Jayasuriya had only nine overs bowled by his pacers. Man-of-the-Match Aravinda de Silva returned impressive figures of 10-2-16-1 and played a big role in curbing the Aussie flair.

Aravinda to quit

Aravinda, who is playing his last series at home, is likely to quit after the World Cup. “I will speak to the selectors and team members after this tournament and then think about my plans of playing in South Africa. But it’s probably till the World Cup and then no more. I will always like to leave on a high,” he said.

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