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Men at work (alas)

Australia grafted dully instead of being flashily brilliant, and now they're out on their ear

A worried Ricky Ponting in the dug-out, Australia v Sri Lanka, ICC World Twenty20, Trent Bridge, June 8, 2009
Ponting tries on another in his repertoire of disappointed expressions, all of which got a good airing in the tournament © Getty Images

So farewell then, Australia. As each brave new yellow-clad soldier trudged to the wicket, the chorus of "Down Under" sounded less like a stirring paean to a virile sporting nation and more like a poignant ode to a vanishing golden age. There was a wilful refusal to succumb from Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee, but they were mere mime artists paying homage to the great actors of the past; to Matthew Hayden, to Adam Gilchrist and (say it quietly) to Andrew Symonds.

Two fleeting impressions of the Australian captain linger in the memory. Receiving his first ever delivery from Ajantha Mendis, he gave himself a little room to marmalise it over cover, but the tricky little ball did a most uncivil thing and slid by his flailing willow to topple the Ponting castle. Slow-motion television froze his face in a wincing "O" of disbelief, the look of a man who'd just tried and failed to jump over a thorny bush.

Then in the penultimate over of the game, with runs coming only at a trickle and an Aussie victory not completely impossible, Brett Lee strayed too straight and Jehan Mubarak swung his long arms, depositing the ball into a mass of jubilant Sri Lankan humanity. Ricky sighed, tilted his head on one side and folded his arms, like a disappointed father who, against his better judgment, had given his wayward children just one more chance to get it right.

To be honest, they were a dull bunch, these Australians. Men at work rather than geniuses at play, they were the grizzled antithesis of what this tournament is about. What is required is not honest toil but flashy brilliance. It is a karaoke contest not the Sydney Opera House, but the Aussies really didn't get into party spirit and weren't prepared to risk making fools of themselves. Which is why they are now going to have a long rest. In Leicester, so we understand.

And who can begrudge Sri Lanka their laurels? Whilst all the other captains have a selection of boring implements in their tool box, Kumar Sangakkara has a range of unusually shaped devices, from the Twirling Murali to the Flailing Malinga, not to mention a succession of slightly built but compelling six-hitters. And of course, there is Mendis, whose modus operandi is so beautifully simple it makes every other bowler look foolish. He's probably never even heard of the corridor of uncertainty.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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