Gilchrist hundred leads Australia to World Cup win

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The Independent Online

Australia confirmed their place in World Cup history by becoming the first side ever to win three successive finals after clinching a 53-run victory in bizarre circumstances over Sri Lanka.

The reigning world champions began their celebrations when Sri Lanka, who had slipped to 206 for seven chasing Australia's 281 for four, accepted the offer of bad light and walked off shortly after 6.10pm at the Kensington Oval.

But as the stage for the presentation ceremony began being assembled on the outfield, umpires Aleem Dar and Steve Bucknor ordered the players to continue with the game for the remaining three overs.

In pitch black conditions, Sri Lanka continued to reach 215 for eight before the players, by now barely visible to the crowd, could begin their celebrations and provide a fitting ending for tournament that has been criticised from start to finish.

Having pitched ticket prices too high to prevent locals from filling out the stadia, banned musical instruments to avoid any hint of Caribbean flavour and stretched the tournament to over two months, it surprised few present that it should end as such a farce.

It also denied Australia a fitting ending having dominated the tournament from start to last when many predicted it was going to be the most open World Cup in years.

Having claimed their third successive triumph, it confirmed Australia as the greatest team in the World Cup's 32-year history by emulating the great West Indies' side' achievement of back-to-back successes in 1975 and 1979.

It also firmly ended suggestions that Australia's ageing side could no longer compete at the highest level having entered the tournament with six defeats from their previous seven matches.

But while teams like England celebrated lesser successes in the Commonwealth Bank series, Australia concentrated on adding the World Cup to their already impressive haul this winter of the ICC Champions Trophy and the regaining of the Ashes with a 5-0 whitewash.

Today's triumph also marked the end of an era with Glenn McGrath already confirming his retirement while Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Brad Hogg unlikely to be around when Australia defend their trophy when the World Cup is staged by India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2011.

Perhaps realising the magnitude of the occasion, Gilchrist stamped his mark in brutal fashion with a blistering onslaught on Sri Lanka's attack to record the highest score ever in a World Cup final.

Australian captain Ponting's brilliant 140 against India four years earlier had been an innings to savour, but this was a demonstration of Gilchrist's devastating power and effectively settled the final as an outcome.

His 149 came off only 104 balls and included 13 fours and eight sixes and left Sri Lanka's highly regarded attack searching for answers as he flayed them around the Kensington Oval.

He dominated a 172-run opening partnership which Hayden contributed only 38 to before driving Lasith Malinga to captain Mahela Jayawardene at mid-off.

Until that breakthrough Sri Lanka were left in despair at the clinical power of Gilchrist's strokeplay with seamer Dilhara Fernando being hit for 29 in his first three overs while spinner Tillakaratne Dilshan conceded 19 in one over.

Gilchrist had three reprieves during his brutal innings, the most costly of which was on 31 when Fernando dropped an ankle-high return catch, a mistake which was exploited to the full with the Australian wicketkeeper hitting fours off the next two deliveries before launching a six over long on from the next.

Wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara was also unable to take the chance when Gilchrist edged Malinga behind the next delivery after reaching his hundred while he was also missed on 132 in the deep by Chamara Silva off Muttiah Muralitharan.

He continued his assault even after Hayden's dismissal before finally top-edging Fernando and being caught at mid-wicket by Silva after setting Australia on course for a huge total.

They failed to reach 300 after losing two wickets in the final three overs with captain Ponting being run out going for a quick single and Shane Watson being bowled trying to paddle Malinga down to fine leg.

Any hopes Sri Lanka had of matching Australia's efforts depended on one of their top four matching Gilchrist and delivering a brilliant innings to keep pace with the daunting run-rate.

Upul Tharanga set the right tone by driving the first ball of their reply through the covers for four off left-arm seamer Nathan Bracken, but then edged behind in his next over.

Australia nearly made further inroads three overs later when Sangakkara upper cut Shaun Tait but Watson, running in from third man, failed to take the diving catch.

Unlike Gilchrist, Sangakkara failed to take full advantage although for 17 overs with Sanath Jayasuriya while they piled on 116 runs, their hopes were still alive.

The inspired introduction of Hogg, however, virtually ended the contest when he induced Sangakkara into a mis-timed pull straight to Ponting at mid-on for 54.

Just three overs later Jayasuriya followed him back to the dressing room after being bowled trying to slog left-arm spinner Michael Clarke and, with showers threatening and light fading, so to did Sri Lanka's hopes.

By the time Malinga was last out, stumped by Gilchrist off Andrew Symonds' off-spin, few in the ground could witness the final scenes.

The ICC's decision to turn on the lights for Australia's victory lap and a huge end of tournament musical extravaganza only heightened the farcical ending to Australia's unique achievement.

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