Australia were crushed yesterday. This is not a verdict which can be delivered often, so six weeks before the start of the Ashes it is worth reporting: Australia were vanquished, overwhelmed and marmalised. Unfortunately not by England.
A rush for the thesaurus. Now for further mouth-watering interpretations of what happened against Sri Lanka in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy, the World Cup holders who had appeared to be on an ominous roll lost by seven wickets at the Premadasa Stadium.
In his pre-match assessment, Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, said that his team were used to the conditions and to the hostility of some crowds around the world. As a misplaced sporting statement this does not rival either Tony Greig's "we'll make 'em grovel'' speech before the West Indies overpowered England in 1976, or David Lloyd's "we flippin' murdered 'em'' pronouncement after England drew with Zimbabwe in 1996. But considering what happened, it was probably as well that Australia were not unprepared.
Australia made 162, their lowest completed innings score in 44 matches against Sri Lanka, and on a dusty, turning pitch were utterly befuddled by an array of spinners, of whom Muttiah Muralitharan was but their main concern. The veteran Aravinda De Silva, who rarely bowls these days, conceded 16 runs in 10 overs and was man of the match. He said later that he might retire after the final, but we have heard that before. Sri Lanka in every sense, were at home. They have bowled out all three opponents in this competition.
Attack was Australia's solitary option but they were below par in the field. Nor have they any adequately sufficient slow bowler to complement Shane Warne, who bowled expertly. There was little indication of what was to come when Australian walloped their merry way to 49 by the seventh over. If there was pulverising to be done the Aussies were going to do it.
Sri Lanka conducted several mid-pitch committee meetings at which De Silva, rather than captain Sanath Jayasuriya conducted the main business. Within ball the juggernaut was of the Dinky variety. Whoever was orchestrating was adept.
Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, dazzling openers, were guilty of faulty strokes. Four wickets went down for eight runs in 35 balls, another three later went for 13. To compound their difficulties Australia suffered two foolhardy run-outs, both direct hits. It was help that the turning ball did not need.
Australia have never won this tournament – like all the semi-finalists – and the only hope they had of changing that was to bowl out Sri Lanka. McGraw was occasionally penetrating. Warne was slippery and bowled Jayasuriya with a top-spinner. He was turning the ball huge distances but turning the match was beyond him, especially when Hayden grounded two slip catches off Marvan Atapattu.
Sri Lanka nudged their way to the target with Atapattu in one of his less expansive modes which is saying something. They will play India in the final. On familiar pitches sub-continental teams are masterful. Australia, England take note, are not a juggernaut. Why, they are almost human.
Scoreboard, Digest, page 13
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