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July 3, 2004
Australia 207 and 201 beat Sri Lanka 97 and 162 (Jayawardene 44, Kasprowicz 7-39) by 149 runs
An unofficial inquiry into Tony Ware's drop-in pitch will doubtless unfold over the coming weeks and months. An official inquiry into world batting standards might be more appropriate. Sri Lanka, beginning their second innings in Darwin at 9.30 this morning, were shot out shortly after 3 o'clock for 162. Australia had won by 149 runs. And for all the talk of this being a substandard pitch - "treacherous", "abnormal" and "unpredictable" were among the adjectives uttered by the players and papers - 10 fairly shoddy episodes of batting technique were principally to blame.
It has been the story of this two-and-three-quarter-day Test. When the going got tough, the tough got out. We live, it is frequently said, in a golden age of batting. We also live, perhaps more pertinently, in an age of golden batting wickets. Confronted by a mildly greenish one, a pitch that popped occasionally and was a fraction slow but exhibited no real demons, two powerful batting sides self-destructed.
Michael Kasprowicz generated robust pace, banged the ball in eagerly and picked up an astonishing 7 for 39 in 17.5 overs. But he will bowl better some day and finish with one-for.
If Sri Lanka's batsmen were culpable today, the Australians - Darren Lehmann and Adam Gilchrist aside - were scarcely much more impressive on the previous two. Ever since the early days of Steve Waugh's stewardship, they have pioneered a freewheeling new way with their brash swagger and buccaneering strokeplay. All the while, they have ignored one of the game's oldest fundamentals: how first to dig in, then later hit out, on a pitch that offers a bit to the bowlers.
John Buchanan, the coach, is unlikely to lose sleep over this, for pitches that offer a bit are almost as rare as eight-ball overs these days. But when history stands in judgement on this team, in the land that gave birth to the ultimate sticky-wicket supremo in Victor Trumper, it might be one of the few crosses against their name.
The success of Lehmann and Gilchrist - who flashed inventively, moved their feet decisively and accounted for 46% of Australia's runs - was symbolic of the match. In all four innings a couple of players, those willing to grind it out early, made batting look easy. The rest couldn't quite be arsed. It is telling to reflect on the third-highest individual tallies in each innings: 37, 14, 16, 17. Patchy is the word.
Today was no different. For two serene hours, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera batted charmingly and sensibly for a 79-run stand. Jason Gillespie was heartily hooked when he dropped short; Glenn McGrath wristily driven when he overpitched. Vague victory notions were entertained.
Then Samaraweera attempted to force Kasprowicz through gully, got an edge to Gilchrist and swung his bat in despair. Four for 109.
Jayawardene, other than offering a simple catch that Simon Katich conspired to put down at square leg, hardly put a foot wrong right to the end. On 44, he shuffled silkily into position and showed McGrath an impeccably straight bat, only to see a juddering off-cutter whistle through the most fleeting of gaps between pad and blade.
Five for 113. The rest was ugly.
Russel Arnold nibbled at a Kasprowicz slanter and got a thin edge. Six for 132. Kasprowicz bent his back again and Tillakaratne Dilshan waved needlessly at a short one outside off. Seven for 141. Upul Chandana and Nuwan Zoysa succumbed to the same delivery that nailed Dilshan and distinctly similar shots, Chandana playing on and Zoysa caught behind. When a flatfooted Lasith Malinga poked at Kasprowicz first ball, feeding Gilchrist his fifth sitter of the day, it was all over two beers past the scheduled halfway mark.
"The wicket has played well," said Tony Ware, the MCG curator by trade, after the visitors' first innings folded inside 42 overs. "I can't explain why Sri Lanka were bowled out for 97." The fact that they mustered only 162 today was no less perplexing.
Again, the Australians bowled superbly. Whether Brett Lee is fit or not, Kasprowicz should now be regarded by the selectors as a first-choice fast man. McGrath, named Man of the Match instead of Dinosaur of the Year, was again at his treat-'em-mean, keep-'em-groping best. He wobbled the ball around handily and dug in the odd exquisitely directed bouncer. His first five overs were maidens and by the end of a testing opening spell, in unseasonally humid conditions, his figures read 10-7-8-1. Only Shane Warne struggled, neither looping, spinning nor bouncing the ball overmuch.
And yet it had been relatively plain sailing early on for the Sri Lankan openers, until 45 minutes of earnest discipline were undone by half-an-hour of reckless sacrifice. With the score on 23, Marvan Atapattu stabbed tentatively at Kasprowicz and Warne plucked a neat low catch at slip. Without further addition, Kumar Sangakkara, the white zinc cream still sticky on his face, was wastefully run out for nought. Sanath Jayasuriya dabbed and hurtled for an ambitious single and Damien Martyn, screaming in from cover, threw down the stumps with a lightning pick-up and fling.
The worst came next. McGrath floated down an airy, innocuous full-toss and Jayasuriya, perhaps shaken by the run-out, was struck beneath the knee roll, plumb in front. Instead of making amends, he had been made to look a fool. At least, Jayasuriya could console himself, after a Test in which wickets cascaded at the rate of nearly five a session, he was not alone.
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