<
>

Aussies get a taste of Kaluwitharana whiplash

Colombo (Sri Lanka) - Sri Lanka is a nation of contradictions: one half believes the selectors should be drawn and quartered the other half firmly that a local version of the Tooth Fairy exists and Romesh Kaluwitharana deserves to have a medal struck in his honour.

And while you are about it give Sidath Wettimuny, the chairman, and the other selectors a hamper of liquid refreshments as well. They deserve it after the thirsty work of putting together a youthful squad and then being pilloried for their belief in a policy which saw Sri Lanka upset World Cup winner's Australia at the Premadasa Stadium last night in a comprehensive eight wicket victory to take the Aiwa Cup.

When suggesting to the driver of the rickety three-wheeler that Sri Lanka had a chance to beat Australia, he almost felt it was an insult to the memories of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. No doubt he considered the fare was more important than the argument of what he would like to do to Wettimuny and Co. Beat the Aussies indeed. World has beens taking on the world champions.

Well, last night, as the critics of the selection policy scuttled for cover, embarrassed at how their outspoken views had seen a large smattering of egg plastered across their faces, Wettimuny, the captain Sanath Jayasuriya and coach Dav Whatmore did not take delight in reminding anyone how their refurbishment policy was showing signs, after a shaky start, of working.

Then again, the way Kaluwitharana put the Australian bowlers to the sword was full of the swashbuckling flair he has produced in recent months. He has fought any number of lost causes this past year: one was at Lord's when he rattled off a half-century against England in the opening game of the tournament Australia went on to win. He rattled the sabre once more last night and so much gave the World Cup champions Australia a bloody nose as flayed the skin off their bowling.

It was the sort of royal reverse salute to herald the exuberant revival of a young side which fielded with the same commitment they have shown throughout the tournament and worked at their game.

Although he batted with care and skill, yet cutting with the sort of perfect timing you would expect from Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist, who earned man of the series award, Marvan Atapattu who partnered through the first 13.4 overs and Russel Arnold, who went on to lay the foundation of victory, Kaluwitharana did not risk throwing it away.

It was an interesting ploy to have Kaluwitharana opening instead of Jayasuriya; but it worked and the crowd, heaving, chanting to the Papa Band (your local equivalent of the Tijuana Brass) and with flags flying added the atmosphere you would expect.

When Arnold joined Kaluwitharana the target of 203 had been whittled away; but not with total domination. Then the run flood started: the 100 partnership was off 114 balls and when it ended, Arnold had collected 47 and gave notice that he is going to become a permanent fixture to the side.

There were times when Australia pressed hard yet with 62 on the board by the end of the 13th over the game was well poised and Shane Warne was brought on.

Warne's introduction to the attack met with a swift jab to the ribs as he was carted for 20 in his first three overs with Kaluwitharana enjoying himself at the leg-spinner's experience; anything short or wayward was pushed around with the confidence of someone on a mission. Not a diplomatic one either. No sooner had Glenn McGrath taken over from Warne and he went for 14 in the 19th over: a battering ram turning the game slightly toward Sri Lanka, but not quite.

Steve Waugh rang the bowling changes and attacked strongly but with an unstoppable Kaluwitharana flowing smoothly along little was going to alter the outcome of this game.

The pitch was a dirty brown, one of those low, slow sub-continent turners, a well baked pastry crust and the sort where hitting outside the vee could lead to trouble. It meant cutting out the wristy stuff and playing straight: working the ball off the pads to anything pitched in the rough was also a problem. On such a surface batting becomes the sort of mind game which can play tricks and a question of the ball landing in the right spot causing further doubt in the mind. Not at all a pleasant turn of events, but who suggested playing matches is such conditions was going to be easy.

It is all about footwork, improved concentration levels and application of the right batting skills: any deviation would lead to a swift departure, and there were a couple of those in the Australian innings. And a glance at the Australia scorecard was sufficient argument to suggest a misreading of the pitch.

While the game was held in typical Sri Lanka humidity and on a shaved surface, last week's game between the two had a fair amount of grass and Australia managed 241 for nine. So, while Adam Dale and Glenn McGrath were quick to capitalise on the more helpful conditions, last night was a different tale. Anything off line was a case of "fetch, mate, fetch".

One of the problems for the batsmen trying to work the ball into the gaps is that it becomes so soft by the 20th over serving up a pat of putty and the harder you hit the ball the more difficult it becomes to penetrate the inner ring. Andrew Symonds discovered this to his cost when scoring 22 at eight in the order: all the runs were singles as he tried to nurse the innings past the 200 mark and towards a bigger total.

When you consider the Sri Lanka reply, all the theories of pitch behaviour seemed to be a mirage: it must be remembered though the light was of the artificial variety and the Australian bowlers are inclined to get more bounce than most, making it easier to hit on the up when the opportunities arise.

In the end it was left to Warne and Jason Gillespie to pick up the sluggish scoring rate in a bid to run with it. Both perished as a result: 35 runs between the pair off 48 balls was a frugal enough response when you consider what had gone before. Darren Lehmann trying to swing the ball through mid-wicket merely to give Upal Chandana a return catch and Michael Bevan foolishly falling on his sword the next ball when he played all around a delivery from the ever-cheerful leg-spinner whose return of two for 33 took his tournament haul to six wickets.

When you consider how Mark Waugh had batted with skill and patience the week before for 84 and was the first of the twins to be bowled by Muthia Muralitharan in the same fashion, through the gate as a touch of sideways movement eluded the normally watchful Sydneysiders you almost expected the bowler to produce a white rabbit from a magician's hat.

He may have a wonky elbow and suspicions still linger in some darker corridors within the ICC, you cannot begrudge his bag of tricks which helped him bag two of the prized wickets in any Australia team. For a man who had a disappointing World Cup he has emerged as a forceful competitor again: his confidence had returned and the hesitation often noticeable in England seemingly banished. He has, at the best of times a wicked enough grin and when the ball pitched into the same footmarks which had undone brother Mark, Steve Waugh looked decidedly anguished. What chances there had been of a match-winning total was evaporating.

Jayasuriya was full of surprises as well, although the decision to open with Arnold's gentler off-spin to compliment Nuwan Zoysa's fast medium did not work too well: 17 runs in two overs with Adam Gilchrist feasting off this particular pea-shelling operation saw the captain replace the all-rounder with Pramodaya Wickremasinghe. Brought in as a replacement for Chaminda Vaas whose current form is as decidedly off key as the local honky tonk piano, he quickly removed Adam Gilchrist with the last ball of his first over and Australia's batting miracle since the World Cup Super Sixes looked decidedly suspect.

Perhaps it was a quietly spoken word from Jeff Thomson which did the trick, but Wickremasinghe was a far different bowler to the one who bowled without conviction in the opening game of the series.

The sight of Jayasuriya ending the game in the 40th over with a six was lesson enough to the detractors and a signal that the state of mourning had come to an end.

  • Aussies get a taste of Kaluwitharana whiplash

    Colombo (Sri Lanka) - Sri Lanka is a nation of contradictions: one halfbelieves the selectors should be drawn and quartered the other half firmlythat a local version of the Tooth Fairy exists and Romesh Kaluwitharanadeserves to have a medal