Chaos at Kensington
The final minutes of the match descended into chaos and confusion and Australia were finally announced champions in near darkness, after having celebrated their victory a couple of overs earlier.
Though no one, including the ICC media manager who was present in the press box, knows yet what exactly happened in the middle, it appears that the umpires offered the Sri Lankan batsmen the light in the 33rd over, which they accepted, sparking off wild celebrations among the Australians. The stumps were broken too, signaling the end of play. But the umpires, who had stayed on in the middle, conferred and interrupted the victory huddle and soon it became apparent that the play had not been called off.
Soon, the Sri Lankan batsmen emerged from the dressing-room and play resumed even thought the light faded further. It took a couple of nondescript overs for the Australians to finally seal victory and though they were deserving winners, there was an anti-climatic feel to the end. The Australians had been robbed off a feeling of spontaneity. But it was that sort of a World Cup.
6 pm - McGrath strikes
He has done it. It wasn’t off the last ball, and he might have an over left if Ponting decides to give him an eighth. It’s almost twilight now, cameras are flashing in the stands and the Aussies are singing Land Down Under in unison.
5.50 pm - Watch out for McGrath's last burst
The cup is all but Australia’s now and next over could be McGrath’s last in international cricket. He hasn’t taken a wicket so far, but he ended his Test career with a wicket and nothing should be ruled out.
5.40 pm - Light fades on Sri Lanka's run chase
A cool evening breeze is wafting across the ground and Chamara Silva has just crafted two fours off Bracken, but bulbs have already come on in the 3Ws stand, and the light is receding fast. Shaun Tait is rifling them in from the Joel Garner end, and there is no telling how long this can last. The Sri Lankans would not be appealing for bad light for sure.
5.25 pm - Gloomy skies worsen Sri Lanka's position
The rain’s gone, and the players are back on the field, but the overs have been slashed and the target revised. Sri Lanka, who needed about 10 per over before going off now need an almost hopeless 12. Aussie front-benchers are on their feet now, and the sound of drums has receded. Sri Lanka were behind already, and their supporters must now reflect on the injustice of nature: did the Australians need any additional assistance? Mahela Jayawardene has just been trapped lbw and Sri Lankan hopes are receding by the ball.
5.00 pm - It looks bleak for Sri Lanka
Alas, it is beginning to drizzle though it’s not heavy but persistent. Sri Lanka are way behind in the D/L calculations and it will be a tragedy if the match were to end that way. The last World Cup knock-out match between these two teams, in the semi-final in 2003, was decided by D/L, with Sri Lanka way behind the target. There is an hour left before the scheduled close of the play which can be extended by an half an hour. It all looks bleak at the moment. The umpires are staying on and saw-dust has been poured near the crease but the pitch is getting wet and the decision will have to be taken soon.
4.15 pm - Sangakkara mesmerises and gives hope to Lanka
In a day full of thrilling stroke-play, three of the most gorgeous were executed by Sangakkara, off successive balls, off that old miser Glenn McGrath. The first was a ballet-like shimmy down the wicket, a melodious executing of the lofted drive, not brutal, but a stroke played with a rhythmic flow; the next was outside off, and carved, between cover and extra cover with timing and precision; McGrath followed up with a short ball, and Sangakarra swivelled and pulled it swiftly behind midwicket. Between Gilchrist and Sangakkara, we have seen the full range already. Gilchrist, all bat-speed and power, Sangakkara all grace and wrist.The chant – Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka – is beginning to get deafening now.
4.00 pm - Fumbling Aussies
Are the Australian fielders feeling the nerves of the big stage? Not even half-way into the Sri Lankan chase and there have been four blips on the field. Two in Shaun Tait’s third over – first Brad Hogg failed to back up to a throw from Michael Clarke and conceded a overthrow and off the next ball, Shane Watson dropped Sangakkara's mistimed uppercut at third man. It was Hogg again, who fired in throw wide off McGrath at the bowler’s end and Sangakkara desperately short of the crease, and Michael Clarke let a ball slip through his hands at point to allow a single. The world champions crumbling? Hardly.
3.40 pm - Mixed sounds from the crowd
Different sounds are beginning to be heard around the stands now. The Australian fans are using their hands and their mouths. There is a rhythmic build-up to every ball as the fans cheer with synchronised clapping and whistling. And they can be easily spotted with their yellow jerseys, or as a group in the southern part of the east stand without any. The ROW supporters are sprinkled all over, and they emanate various sounds. Sri Lanka's fours are greeted with thumping of drums from one part of the ground, blow of conches from another, and a loud roar of cheer from all over. The first Australian misfield was hailed by a triumphantly approving noise, only to be bettered next ball when Kumar Sangakkarra was dropped by Shane Watson at the third-man boundary. The sun is out in full glory as Glenn McGrath starts his spell from the Malcolm Marshall end.
3.20 pm - Tait's amazing run-up
The sun’s hiding again, and Nathan Bracken starts with a cool breeze blowing across. Upul Tharanga flashes the first ball over cover for four. The ground has been almost full today, but the empty seats are in the 3W's stand. They belong to the sponsors of this mega-tournament. Most of them Indian corporates, and many of them have decided to cut their loss. Shaun Tait serves up a crunching bouncer to Tharanga. It’s amazing how he generates such pace off a languid, almost halting run-up. The over ends with a loud but futile leg-before appeal.
3.00 pm - Give it up for the World Cup volunteers
World Cup volunteers, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, some of them abhorring the regulations that have squeezed the fun out of the World Cup, are on a parade around the ground now. And movingly, they are getting a standing ovation from the spectators. Despite the officiousness of it all, the World Cup has been an incident-free event, and the volunteers have played huge part in it. The innings break is over almost as soon as it started.
2.57 pm - Hapless Lanka
An absolute shocker that sums up Sri Lanka's performance on the field. Fernando, who has already bowled a no-ball and a wide in the final over of the innings, manages to fire one in at Michael Clarke's feet. Clarke barely manages to squeeze it out, and the ball loops back to Fernando off the ground. Andrew Symonds, meanwhile, has charged down the wicket and Fernando merely has to roll the ball back to the stumps to run him out. But he fumbles, trips and misses the stumps. The ball rolls down to mid off and the batsmen squeeze out a single. Sri Lanka have been run ragged by an awesome display of power-hitting.
2.50 pm - 300 in 38 overs?
A wicket at last for Lasith Malinga, and the first big roar goes up from the ROW (Rest of the World) fans. The ball was full and swinging and Watson went to sweep, Australia have promoted big-shot men ahead and Michael Hussey must be wondering what it might take for him to get a hit. Australia are unlikely to get to 300 now. But who knows?
2.10pm - Whose side are you on?
Australia vs The World, one banner in the East Stand reads. Which of course sums up the sentiments at the ground today. The Barmy Army are there, and it’s not hard to guess who they are supporting. I sat next to a Barbadian lady in the bus in the morning. Who was she backing, I asked? I needn’t have. She pointed to her T-shirt. It was Sri Lankan. “No more Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”, she said. The Aussies have been at it since the match began. For the most, they have only gasps: a bump ball caught at cover, a high ball falling between the fielders, a mis-hit from Hayden, a couple of muffled appeals from Murali.... at this rate, Australia could keep in tact their record of scoring 300 every time they have batted first: 84 from nine overs. Eminently possible.
1.40pm - Gilchrist hurts Sri Lanka Gilchrist brings up his first hundred in a World Cup final by lifting Malinga over his head for four. It is the fastest hundred in a World Cup final. He has been breathtakingly brutal, smoking fours and sixes almost at will. Hayden has joined the party too, hoisting Malinga for a straight six. They have now become the second most prolific opening pair in one-day cricket, beating Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, who have a stand named after them. Only Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly stand ahead of them, but this pair has delivered when it has mattered the most. In the last World Cup final, they put up 105 from 15 overs.
1.20pm - One almighty blast The shot of the day, so far. The previous ball, Gilchrist has just blasted Fernando, who is back in firing line after Tillakaratne Dilshan was hit for two straight sixes, for a six over long off. Fernando keeps this one full, almost a yorker on leg stump, but Gilchrist’s bat has enough momentum to squeeze is past the bowler. It screams down to the boundary. Gilchrist’s brilliance is hustling Sri Lanka in to sloppiness. Wides and misfields are beginning to creep in. Hayden looks like he's batting on another planet, still edging.
1.05pm - Fernando's fatal drop? Has Sri Lanka’s chance come and gone? Dilhara Fernando, who has been bowling round the wicket from the first ball after having been warned twice for transgressing in to the business area of the pitch in the semi-final against New Zealand, drops a caught and bowled chance from Gilchrist. It was hit firmly, but should have been taken. Gilchrist responds by hitting his next three balls for 4, 4, and 6. Fernando has now gone for 29 from three overs. Gilchrist has taken 23 off 13 balls. A couple of overs later, he brings up his third successive half-century in World Cup finals. Sri Lanka have spin from both ends now. Murali's doesn't like bowling to left handers. His third ball to Gilchrist was a doosra, and a wide.
12.50pm - Malinga 1 Hayden 0 Even bullies don’t like it hot. Matthew Hayden, who has spanked three hundreds in the tournament so far, has been kept honest by Lasith Malinga, who is one of the true wonders of cricket. He hasn’t gone full pelt so far, hitting only the mid-80s, but has been fast enough to keep Hayden pinned to his crease. From 15 balls from Malinga, Hayden has managed merely a single. Malinga’s first spell reads: 4-1-6-0.
12.25pm - Gilchrist sets the tone Adam Gilchrist, who hasn’t set this World Cup afire, begins the offensive with a four and six in Vaas’s second over. The six is a typical Gilchrist effort: pick the length early, meet the ball on the up and hoist over long-on. It’s caught by an Australian fan in the front rows and he holds the ball up triumphantly. Cue for Kumar Sangakarra to move up to the stumps. It’s only the eighth ball in Vaas’s spell.
12:15pm - Match on The match is on. Chaminda Vaas’s first ball is greeted with a cacophonous roar. He is on target. Aussie fans rise to their feet as Adam Gilchrist opens the scoring with single. So who will the shorter match suit more? Viv Richards, still majestic, still fit, and still magnetic, was around a while ago. What do you think will happen, he asked, before volunteering the answer: Australians might lose a few early wickets.
11.45am - An appropriate end? Good news. The rain has stopped, the sun is beginning to break through and the covers are coming off. Andy Atkinson, ICC’s pitch consultant is out there in the middle supervising the operation and the Sri Lankans are out warming up. It is clear now that the final will be a truncated affair. But while we await an announcement, here’s a thought: is it perhaps not an appropriate end to a unfulfilling World Cup?
11.30am - Forget the match, what about the flights? The rain is beginning to get worrying. It’s a stiff, constant stream now. There isn’t a trace of blue in the sky now, and a haze is developing around the ground. The wind from the south-east, which had been blowing the clouds away, has ceased. There is a stifling stillness around now.
The giant screen is playing highlights and a band is playing. But spectators are beginning to get restless. Those without umbrellas on the front rows are beginning to filter out and journalist have started speculating how many overs we might lose today. Some are getting worried about their flights if the match gets carried over to tomorrow.
10.30am - Hitting the roof The new media box at the Kensington Oval is among best in the world. It has all the facilities and a great view. And it’s open. But there has been a major problem. When the sun starts get a bit benevolent towards the afternoon. At about 3pm, laptops start burning, at 4pm, they melt.
Many journalists have been seen retreating to airconditioned confines of the media centre and couple of levels below. But there is another problem with that. You have watch the match on TV there. It’s the same as staying back in Mumbai, London or wherever.
The organisers have come up with a novel solution. They have erected, makeshift roofs over our head. Actually, roof is stretching it. It’s a thin piece of wood mounted on a shaky frame. It’s painted green. And it’s low to ensure it doesn’t block the view of chaps sitting in the row behind. It has already served a purpose today by protecting the laptops from the drizzle.
But thank god Joel Garner hasn’t taken to cricket reporting. Our very own Andrew Miller already has a bump on his head. That’s him in the hat in the photograph. Crouching next to him is the former England medium-pacer Angus Fraser, who is the chief cricket correspondent for the London based Independent.
10.05am - Good toss to lose? Australia have chosen to bat. That’s been their gameplan through the World Cup and they have the confidence to stick to it. The sun came out briefly. Now it’s gone behind again. In fact, it has begun to drizzle again. The covers are coming on. It’s a good toss to lose for Sri Lanka. The conditions in the morning will suit them.
The track they are using today is different from on the one West Indies played England. That was a belter. The rain has got heavier. It is no longer a drizzle. Did the toss come a few minutes too early for Australia?
10am - Unorthodoxy and mystery It already feels like a final. It’s the one everyone wanted. Australia haven’t look like losing. Why, they haven’t looked like losing more than six wickets. But there is an air of expectation in the air. If any team can beat them it’s Sri Lanka. They have one thing that none of Australia’s opponents have had so far. They have unorthodoxy and mystery.
As South Africa demonstrated so abysmally, you can’t beat Australia at their own game. Sri Lanka will try to distract them. They have the skills and a joie de vivre the other teams have lacked. Only they can redeem this wretched World Cup.
The roads leading the Kensington Oval are choked. Bands are already playing. Fans are there from everywhere. Some have even come from the other parts of the Caribbean. A Hindi song is playing a local bar and two locals are dancing. I am puzzled. My colleague Rahul Bhattacharya, who has spent in year in Guyana clears it for me: it is a Guyanese scene, he says. Bars are already open. And beer’s already flowing.
Yellow and green is everywhere. A large posse of Australian fans have just alighted from a cruise liner. The West Stand, the temporary one which will demolished after the World Cup, is sea of Australian colours. A huge roar goes up when it is announced that Ricky Ponting has won the toss. The Sri Lankan fans are hopelessly outnumbered. But needn’t worry.
Everyone else in the ground are backing them. They are the home team today.
9:40am - Hot and sticky Woke up to a drizzle today. It would have been unimaginable last week when the sky matched the colour of the water and the sun shone as brightly as it does in the Australian summer in Melbourne. Today, it felt like London. But it rained here last morning too. Locals say it will not last. And it will get hot. It’s sticky already.
But will it affect the decision at toss? The Australians like to bat first. And they have scored more that 300 every time they have batted first in the World Cup. But the conditions are heavy and both teams have a left-arm swing bowler with the new ball. The pitch here was thought not conducive for Chaminda Vaas. But it might be different now.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo