Sri Lanka reach the finals

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Sri Lanka booked their passage to the World Series finals with only two balls to spare after a stunning contribution by the opener Romesh Kaluwitharana to their three-wicket victory over Australia in Melbourne yesterday.

The diminutive wicketkeeper raced to the third-fastest half-century in the competition's 16-year history as Sri Lanka overhauled their opponents at the Melbourne Ground.

In reply to the home side's commanding 242 for 4 in 50 overs, Sri Lanka scored 246 for 7 to the delight of a small but vocal group of supporters in a crowd of more than 40,000.

The Sri Lankan off-spinner Kumar Dharmasena edged a delivery from the fast bowler Glenn McGrath to the third man boundary to set off wild victory celebrations.

Kaluwitharana, thriving in his new role after being promoted from the middle order in the latter stages of the triangular competition, set up the victory by hitting 74 runs from 69 balls.

The victory ensured the Sri Lankans a place in the best-of-three-games final series against the competition's hosts, Australia, at the expense of West Indies.

With his side facing a rate of almost five runs an over to win, Kaluwitharana's boldness dramatically eased the pressure on the later batsmen. His efforts overshadowed the Australian all-rounder Steve Waugh's first century for his country in a limited-overs international.

"This win is perhaps our finest moment in one-day cricket," the Sri Lanka captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, said. "It is really great to get to the finals."

WORLD SERIES (Melbourne) Australia 242 for 4 (S Waugh 102no); Sri Lanka 246 for 7 (R Kaluwitharana 74). Sri Lanka won by three wickets.