Monday, April 16, 2007

Bracken, Ponting show Sri Lanka where they stand

Sadly Sri Lanka put a damper on their much awaited clash with Australia, potentially the dress rehearsal for the World Cup finals, by pulling Muralidharan and Chaminda Vaas from the playing eleven. Smarter cricketing minds than mine were surely behind this move, but for a fan this was hard to fathom. Star players don’t need to be “rested” in a tournament this significant and if Sri Lanka were trying to mess with Australia psychologically, they need to fire their shrink.

Early inroads for Australia
Mahela Jayawardene chose to bat on a wicket that looked dry and flat. But things quickly went wrong for his team as Nathan Bracken reaped the benefits for keeping it straight and simple. Early on, the Australians tried to bounce the Lankans out. But on a wicket like this Shaun Tait’s pace was nullified by the lack of juice and he got hammered. Ponting was forced to bring on McGrath, ahead of schedule. McGrath tried the short stuff once – a ball that went to the ropes in a heartbeat. He quit immediately and basically went about duplicating Bracken’s line. Much good came out of this for Australia.

A pugnacious revival
With Sri Lanka on the ropes at 27 for 3, Chamara Silva joined Jayawardene. And both these batsmen put together a superb, fighting partnership. We haven’t seen the best of Jayawardene in this World Cup so far, which made his knock even more exciting to watch. And although he was all class, it was Silva who steadied his hand with a gutsy, pugnacious knock. Such was their ramp up in production that the creases were back on Ricky Ponting’s forehead. But Silva’s soft dismissal, looping a sweep to short fine leg started a horrific slide that left Sri Lanka on 226. It was a disappointing effort, given that their batting was at full strength.

Concerns over Tait
For Australia, Shaun Tait’s second poor game on the trot against a team of significance must be a cause of worry - especially since he has emerged as Ponting’s go-to strike bowler in this tournament. And you could see how important he is to their plans in the way Ponting gave him multiple chances to come back into the game whenever Sri Lanka was on the defensive. To his credit, Tait took the hammering with a large heart and bowled with energy.

Australia get going
Australia’s innings began with a typically authoritative opening stand from Gilchrist and Hayden and although they were 79 for 2 by the 14th over, it was good timing for them. Because the advent of the Sri Lankan spinners – who were expected to play a critical part in the game – came with Australia’s two best players of spin at the crease: Ponting and Michael Clarke.

Clarke was the less convincing of the two, but he used his feet to keep the spinners on edge. His 47 run stand for the 3rd wicket put Australia on the right track although his dismissal opened a window for the Lions.
Enter Andrew Symonds, who used his reach to counter the spin. Symonds whacks the ball so hard that you have got to feel sorry for the ball. His crunching knock of 63 from 71 balls hurried Australia home.

Ponting settles the issues
But make no mistake: the star of the Australian innings was Ricky Ponting. So assured was he in playing the spinners today, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when Harbhajan Singh used to carry him around in his hip pocket. Today the Australian captain used terrific footwork to drive the slow bowlers. When they dropped their length to counter this aggression, he would rock back gently and cut or slice the ball on the off. He barely played a false stroke – he looked so good today that I’m convinced Australia can ride his form all the way to the World Cup.

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