March 18, 2003

Australia wriggle free and march into World Cup final

Australia booked themselves into the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup with a comprehensive Duckworth Lewis affected 48 run win against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, another clinical performance that will only enhance the aura of invincibility that now surrounds Ricky Ponting's side.

Sri Lanka had their moments, making Australia's top order struggle on the sluggish St George's pitch at Port Elizabeth, but Australia once again wriggled free of trouble, posting a respectable 212 for seven after an unbeaten half-century from Andrew Symonds, before grabbing an iron-like grip on the game with the ball.

Mid-innings the match may have looked evenly poised, but that was before the main contest of the day: speedster Brett Lee versus Sri Lanka's pace-shy top order. Lee won the contest in convincing fashion, shrugging off the handicap of a turgid surface to take three wickets as Sri Lanka slumped to 76 for seven.

Kumar Sangakkara (39*) and Chaminda Vaas (21*) provided some resistance, adding 47 runs in 13.5 overs for the eighth wicket, before rain forced the players from the field with Sri Lanka on 123 for seven after 38.1 overs, well behind the run rate according to the Duckworth Lewis machinations.

No further play was possible, meaning Australia, who now have a record 16 successive World Cup wins under their belt, will face either India or Kenya in the tournament final at Wanderers on Sunday.

The Sri Lanka innings had started brightly enough with the inform Marvan Atapattu (14) stroking three boundaries but Lee was cranking steadily up through the gears. The disappointment of a spilled catch at cover pushed him to full throttle and a thunderbolt yorker, clocked at a staggering 160.1 KM per hour, rearranged his stumps.

Sanath Jayasuriya (17), a shadow of his former self after being roughed up and maimed by Lee at Centurion, was snared by Lee's new ball partner Glen McGrath, swivel-pulling lamely into the hands of Symonds at backward square.

Lee quickly mopped up Hashan Tillakaratne (3) and Avishka Gunawardene (1), both of whom wafted edges behind, before Andy Bichel sealed Sri Lanka's fate with the brilliant run out of Aravinda de Silva, the last man capable of carrying Jayasuriya's side to victory.

De Silva, playing his last international game, had already signaled the threat he posed with two boundaries when Kumar Sangakkara nudged to mid-wicket and called for a quick single. Bichel, the bowler, quickly chased down the ball and threw down the stumps with de Silva yards out of his ground.

The out-of-form Mahela Jayawardene, included in the side in place of paceman Dilhara Fernando earlier in the day as Sri Lanka packed their side with batting, extended his World Cup aggregate to 21 in seven innings before being caught off pad and glove.

When Russel Arnold, Sri Lanka's last recognised batsman, top edged a sweep to deep back square, having spent 27 balls scratching out his three runs, Sri Lanka dead and buried on 76 for seven

Earlier, after Australia had won an important toss, Symonds, a controversial selection when Australia's World Cup squad was first announced, produced his second match-winning performance of the tournament, scoring an unbeaten 91 from 118 balls.

The zinc-lipped right-hander, who would have been stumped on 33 had Sangakkara not spilled a straightforward take, rescued the Australian innings with a 93 run partnership for the fourth wicket.

Australia had made a galloping start, racing to 34 off the first five overs as Pulasthi Gunaratne was smacked for 20 runs in his first two overs.

But de Silva, called into the attack in just the sixth over, broke through with his second off-break of the day as Gilchrist edged an attempted sweep onto his pad to offer Sangakkara a simple catch. Had the 29-year-old stood his ground then he would have been reprieved by a doubting Rudi Koertzen but, in an act of rare Australian chivalry, Gilchrist walked.

Vaas, who produced another skillful display, then claimed a brace of wickets as Ricky Ponting (2) mistimed a drive to be caught at mid-off and Matthew Hayden (20) clipped a stinging catch to mid-wicket. The left-armer extended his record World Cup tally to 23 when he had Lee Harvey caught at the wicket with a jagging off-cutter.

Symonds and Lehmann then steadied the innings, never scoring easily against Sri Lanka's quartet of slow bowlers, but preventing a Sri Lankan rout and laying a solid enough foundation for their bowlers later in the day.

Eventually, Jayasuriya broke through with a well-flighted delivery that Lehmann chopped onto his stumps. The spinner had a chance of claiming a hat-trick when Michael Bevan (0), the hero during Australia's previous two matches at Port Elizabeth, edged a catch behind.

Brad Hogg (8) survived the hat-trick ball but did not last long before being smartly stumped by Sangakkara. After Harvey's dismissal Australia were 175 for seven but Sri Lanka could not finish them off as Symonds and Bichel added 37 runs in the final 6.1 overs.