Australia hand Sri Lanka 81-run thrashing
Australia 168 for 5 (White 85*, Randiv 3-20) beat Sri Lanka 87 (Johnson 3-15, Nannes 2-19)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia stormed to a resounding 81-run win that all but assured their semi-finals spot as Sri Lanka were steamrolled by extreme pace and sustained pressure, folding for 87. Dirk Nannes and Mitchell Johnson were the main destroyers of the Sri Lankan batting line-up, but the win was made possible by Cameron White's unstoppable 85 from 49 balls, which rescued his side from a perilous 67 for 5.
White was ably aided by Michael Hussey in an unbroken stand of 101 in less than ten overs, and when the Sri Lankan top order was bullied out by a formidable Australian pace attack in quick succession, the rest of the batsmen collapsed in a heap.
Australia had been in a similar situation against Bangladesh in the group stage, sinking to 65 for 6 before they were saved by a 74-run partnership between Hussey and Steven Smith. Today, they had White to thank, as he saw off the threatening Suraj Randiv, making the most of a missed chance on 23 to establish his dominance over the rest of the attack, as he passed 50 from 32 balls.
Shane Watson and David Warner have given Australia solid starts more often than not in this tournament, but today they were parted with the fifth ball of the innings, as Angelo Mathews snaked one in to rattle Watson's stumps via an inside edge. In an impressively-controlled opening spell, Mathews then deceived Brad Haddin, sent in ahead of Clarke with Australia one down, with a slower one that took the leading edge and looped up to give Sanath Jayasuriya an easy catch.
Australia were then under real pressure when Mahela Jayawardene held a blistering reflex take at slip when Warner nicked a flashing drive to Randiv's third ball of the match. In a dramatic over, Randiv then set Sri Lankan hearts racing when he beat David Hussey first ball with a flighted delivery that went the other way as the batsman drove on the walk, and Kumar Sangakkara whipped the bails off milliseconds later - not that it mattered, as the ball had also brushed the edge on its way through.
The hat-trick evaded him, but he topped off an outstanding spell when Clarke backed away to cut a turning ball and lost his off bail. Australia were 67 for 5 after 11 overs at that stage, and were in real danger of crumbling for an insubstantial total.
But Sri Lanka could not carry the intensity from their opening onslaught into the second half of the innings. After racing to his half-century, White led Australia's charge in the closing overs, lifting Welegedara down the ground with brutal hits from consecutive deliveries to move into the 70s.
With that, Hussey, who had nudged his way to 9 from 15 balls, took his cue, walking across his stumps to paddle a knee-high full toss from Lasith Malinga to fine leg. Hussey followed that up with a majestic lofted cover drive, before closing the over with an audacious sweep to a searing yorker. White took Australia past 150 with his fifth and sixth sixes in the penultimate over, and an incredible 91 runs came from the final seven overs.
Jayawardene has been Sri Lanka's linchpin at the top of the order in this tournament, and when he swivelled to pull Nannes handsomely over square leg it appeared that the stage had been set for another excellent knock. But Nannes dug the next one in even shorter, and the ball rose alarmingly to take the splice and balloon up to give Smith an easy catch at long leg.
It was pace and aggression that did for Sangakkara, too, as Shaun Tait sent down a brutish bumper that beat the attempted hook for pace, striking the glove on the way through to Haddin. The slide continued as Nannes fired one in at Jayasuriya's pads in his next over, beating an aimless swish to pin the batsman lbw to reduce Sri Lanka to 26 for 3 in the fifth over.
Watson was brought on in the last over of the Powerplay, and his medium-paced seamers proved to be a far more attractive prospect than the 90mph-plus barrage of Nannes and Tait. Dilshan responded with a caressed cover drive and a clean hit high over long on, and Mathews didn't miss out either, slamming Watson straight back over his head as 15 were taken from the over.
But they still had Johnson to contend with from the other end, and he made his intentions clear by banging his first two balls in before rolling his fingers over his third to induce an uppish cut from Dilshan. White at backward point went airborne to pull off a stunning catch inches from the turf, and when Mathews picked out Hussey on the cover boundary four balls later, Sri Lanka's short-lived counterpunch was nipped in the bud.
Sri Lanka were 67 for 5 after 10 overs - almost exactly the position in which Australia had found themselves in the first innings - but their middle order lacks White's power and Hussey's class, and from that point on the two sides went in opposite directions, Australia seizing back the game with a supremely confident fightback; Sri Lanka capitulating meekly in the face of sustained pressure. Such was the scale of the win, Australia are now virtually guaranteed a place in the semi-finals.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPN Cricinfo