Twenty20 cricket may be no more relevant to an Ashes series than policies were to last week's elections but, so far as the English are concerned, making the link is irresistible. Australia may prefer not to dwell on their struggle to get to grips with the shortest form of the game but this is an Ashes summer and England have won the right to crow first.
Sri Lanka's win by six wickets at Trent Bridge last night means that while Ricky Ponting's side are not literally going home, they will take no further part in the ICC World Twenty20, allowing Sri Lanka and the West Indies, their conquerors at the Oval on Saturday, to progress to the Super Eight stage irrespective of what happens when they meet here tomorrow. England, of course, are through. The only consolation for Australia is that they have a couple more weeks to ready themselves for Cardiff on 8 July.
Ponting readily talked up that consequence of the defeat. "It can't hinder us to have a bit more time with the red balls out, getting used to thinking about and preparing for the longer form of the game," he said. "England will be playing this form of the game for another week at least. So if there is one 'positive' from this, maybe we can get something out of it that way."
But he did not pretend the setback did not matter. "I can't tell you how disappointed I am. The way we've played in the last two games, we've made way too many mistakes. You just can't afford to do that against good teams."
Australia's patchy 159-9 always looked vulnerable against a line-up as rich in quality as Sri Lanka's. Australia needed not just a victory but a substantial one if they were to have a chance to stay in the tournament.
In the event, it was a forlorn hope as first Tillakaratne Dilshan and then the captain, Kumar Sangakkara, responded with performances of the highest class. Dilshan's masterful 52 off 32 balls included 10 fours, five off them off a humbled Shane Watson, culminating in as audacious an uppercut as is possible to imagine, flicked from bended knee over his own head and that of the wicketkeeper.
Sangakkara's unbeaten 55, off 42 deliveries, climaxed with consecutive sixes, swept away off Nathan Hauritz, in the 15th over, the one that began to take away Australia's last hopes, reducing the winning target to 38.
Ignominiously, at the start of the final over, Sri Lanka's celebrations were unleashed by a wide bowled by Mitchell Johnson to Jehan Mubarak. Australia, sent in by Sangakkara, had been 47 after five overs with Ponting and Watson going strongly after the early loss of David Warner. After 10 overs, they were 70-3, which did not look so good. By then, Sri Lanka's brilliant finger spinner, Ajantha Mendis, had accounted for both Watson and Ponting, taking out the captain's leg stump before pinning Watson leg before on the sweep. He claimed his third by trapping Michael Hussey in front with a quicker ball.
After 15, they were 94-6. Johnson's 28 off 13 balls, including two imperious swept sixes in a 19-run over against Muttiah Muralitharan, offered a small hope of redemption. With a little help from Brett Lee, who hit Udana over his head for six, the last two overs put on 30. In the end, it counted for nothing.
Dread Leicester: What Aussies can do
The Aussies face a week of Ashes training in Leicester after yesterday's disaster. What can they do there?
*Visit the National Space Centre, although Ponting's men may be sick of looking at the skies given the number of sixes they have conceded.
*Savour a curry in one of the city's many fine establishments – nothing, so they say, soothes a battered ego like a chicken tikka masala.
*Enjoy a day at Abbey Park, Leicester's premier park. Highlights include a pet's corner.Reuse content