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February 22, 2008
Australia and Sri Lanka were both dug into holes by their top orders at the MCG but while Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke clambered out, Sri Lanka were drowned in their pit by Melbourne's rain. Australia picked up a 24-run victory on the Duckworth/Lewis method, which means Sri Lanka must now win both their remaining CB Series games and rely on Australia beating India to have any chance of reaching the finals.
They had only themselves to blame, though, after dawdling in their chase of 185. Sri Lanka's innings was 29.3 overs old when the showers came but they had only reached 4 for 77 when they needed to have 101 on the board to make Duckworth/Lewis work in their favour. They were so far off the mark they even conceded the bonus point to Australia. The slow pitch did not help matters, and Sri Lanka's go-to man Kumar Sangakkara struggled to find a way to score.
He laboured for 59 balls for his 22 and when he departed in the 25th over, top-edging James Hopes to cover when he tried to force the run-rate, Sri Lanka's chances took a major blow. Nobody will ever know if the batsmen at the crease could have rescued the situation but it had taken Chamara Silva 47 deliveries to reach 16 while Tillakaratne Dilshan was on 9 from 14.
Sri Lanka had looked steady while Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene were together but the loss of the captain, who edged behind off Nathan Bracken, hurt the visitors significantly. Jaywardene had finally got the scoreboard ticking over with a couple of boundaries - none came until the 15th over - and his cover-driven four off Mitchell Johnson looked like it might spark some quicker runs.
But Australia's seam attack continued to use the conditions perfectly after a pair of Stuart Clark wickets in the opening overs reduced Sri Lanka to 2 for 3. They were 1 for 0 when Sanath Jayasuriya made a first-ball duck, edging Clark's initial delivery to Ricky Ponting at second slip.
Clark followed with the wicket of Dilruwan Perera, the opener playing his first ODI of the tour, who was unlucky to be given lbw to a ball that would have sailed over the stumps. So difficult was the pitch that Sri Lanka reached just 2 for 19 after ten overs - the crowd thought Australia's 1 for 24 at the same stage was sleep-inducing.
Fortunately for the hosts they had Clarke and Hussey to fall back on. It was not the first time this series the middle order was required to clean up the mess left by Australia's top order. The pair built a 90-run partnership that was all the more important as they came together when Australia had staggered to 4 for 54 in the 22nd over.
Boundaries were not high on the agenda as they took easy singles, although Clarke eventually managed four fours. He sparked a relative frenzy from the subdued crowd when he launched Lasith Malinga over long on and next ball glanced fine for another boundary. Clarke made his third half-century of the series - he has been the shining light in a switched-off batting line-up - but fell for 50 to a sharp return catch by Muttiah Muralitharan.
Hussey's effort was typically workmanlike - he scored 39 singles and only one four - but it was just what his side required under the circumstances. When he came to the crease Farveez Maharoof had been choking the runs and picking off the batsmen to more than justify Jayawardene's unexpected decision to send Australia in.
Ponting said on Thursday he and Matthew Hayden were the only Australians who could be disappointed at their price-tags in the Indian Premier League but they did little to earn sympathy with their agonising approach to target-building. Their 27-run partnership took nearly 11 overs - hardly inspiring for their Twenty20 purchasers - and both fell when the pressure from Sri Lanka's seamers became too much.
The out-of-touch Ponting had 11 from 34 balls - his series has been so bad his low score actually improved his average - when he attempted a suicidal single. He thought he had pushed the ball past the bowler but Maharoof is a tall man and dived to his right to stop it, leaving Ponting to try and scramble back from the middle of the pitch as Clarke wisely decided against running.
Maharoof also had Hayden caught off a leading edge for 23 from 53 balls and he finished with 2 for 20 from his ten overs, which was a fine turnaround after he leaked nearly seven an over in Adelaide on Tuesday. Ultimately, though, Sri Lanka's inability to break the Hussey and Clarke partnership sooner was the key. Australia's total was their lowest in more than ten years for a 50-over innings, but their attack, even without Brett Lee, was dangerous and Sri Lanka's inability to read a weather radar and bat accordingly has left their CB Series in a precarious position.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the 4th ODI between England and India at Edgbaston