First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
Funny how Cricket Australia allocates grounds to games. Matches at the MCG involving Sri Lanka tend to attract almost the entire large Sri Lankan community living in Melbourne. So CA, in its wisdom, had Sri Lanka playing just one match in Melbourne this CB series, that too the one before the finals. Having attended all the matches involving Sri Lanka on this ground since 1995, I was going to be there, rain, hail or shine, dead rubber or not.
Hussey, D (David/Dangerous). He held the Australian innings together and brought the home side (although Lankans may argue that they are the home side at the "G") to the brink of victory in a pulsating match. He holed out trying to hit the ball out of the park in the final over with just 10 runs to get. Game over, bye bye and thanks for coming, India. Sri Lanka in the finals, and on to Brisbane on Sunday.
Honourable mentions for Lasith Malinga for coming back so strongly after the shellacking he received from Virat Kohli in Hobart, and for Dinesh Chandimal for another splendid half-century.
One thing I'd have changed about the day
Overzealous administration. My friends were allowed to bring a Lankan Papare band inside the stadium, but were then given last-minute notice of dimensions for "acceptable" drums, which meant that the bass drum could not be used. Problem resolved after much negotiation and a promise to not bring the same drum to the Boxing Day Test at year-end, when Sri Lanka will play their first Test here since the infamous Murali-Hair incident in 1995.
Face-off I relished
James Pattinson v Tillakaratne Dilshan. Aggressor v Aggressive. This round was won convincingly by the young tyro. He pitched one just outside off and surprised Dilshan with the bounce to get a catch to the keeper.
The old man Hussey, M (Mike/Man) can still take breath-taking catches to match the best of them. Here, he took a running catch on the rope from a lusty Thisara Perera hit, realised his momentum would carry him over the line, threw the ball back in and stepped in to catch it again. Take a bow, Mr Cricket! And join the circus in your retirement.
After the aforementioned pulsating finish, most Lankan fans stayed in their seats (Okay, they were standing on them) to celebrate the win. In a pleasant and surprising gesture, a few Sri Lankan players fanned into various parts of the ground with bags of soft balls, throwing them into the crowd. Dilshan and Dammika Prasad (reserve) both made their way to my section. Dilshan does have a great arm, even with a soft ball.
Shot of the day
Pity his innings didn't last long, but Mahela Jayawardene started the day at a cracking pace, hitting a luscious cover drive off Ben Hilfenhaus' second ball. The swing of the bat was something to behold. Two balls later, he was out taking a risky single.
There were 29,000 people at the ground (it's only the MCG's vastness that can make such an attendance look decidedly paltry). The crowd made up for it with good cheer and even better voice. Over 80% of the support was for Sri Lanka, with the stands a sea of blue and yellow, and Lion flags waving in all directions. The costumes were clever and banners witty.
Downstairs in the Great Southern Stand was scene of the action off the pitch, with two papare bands in adjoining aisles providing non-stop music. I was sitting with one of the bands, and the commitment of these volunteer band members to keep the music going for the 100 overs is amazing to watch from close quarters. They would certainly rival the players for hard work and team ethic. Many supporters were providing solid and liquid sustenance to keep the band going.
There were the regular attendance of Kangaroos, Lions and ATM machines (to garner support from the sponsor of the series and win tickets to the West Indies), but the prize in most eyes went to the young man dressed like a village damsel in Sri Lanka.
As for the bunch of Aussies in nappies, not sure what they were thinking or what inspired their fancy. They did however manage to stay the course of the game without bathroom breaks, so those large adult nappies must surely have served their purpose.
It was a great game and a fitting finale to the series prior to the finals. In a match that ebbed and flowed, with both teams seizing the opportunities and handing them back, it was a high-quality contest with a thrilling finish. Sri Lanka bounced back very strongly following the thumping they received from India in the previous game, and will take a lot of confidence to the finals from having beaten Australia three times already in this series.
Australia, on the other hand, will take heart from the fact that they ran the Lankans so close without Michael Clarke in the team. The bouncy Brisbane wicket will give them a better "home ground" advantage than the G and it partisan, mostly Lankan crowd.
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Priyan Weerasinghe is a cricket tragic who grew up playing cricket in Colombo and now resides in Melbourne. His slow right-arm seamers have never harmed the pitch or any opposing batsmen
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