A typically clinical bowling performance overcame a less distinguished fielding effort as Australia dismantled a star-studded World XI, winning the first of the three Super Series matches by 93 runs under lights, and a roof, at the Telstra Dome while it rained on the rest of Melbourne. Ricky Ponting's men chose to bat, put 255 on the board, and then made it seem more like 355 with canny bowling.
Kumar Sangakkara must have wondered if he was back in Colombo batting for Nondescripts Cricket Club as he ploughed a lone furrow, stitching together a stylish, yet occasionally streaky, half-century while all around him faltered and fell. The target of 256 appeared on the lower side, even accounting for a sluggish outfield, but Glenn McGrath showed why he is still the most lethal thing with a new ball in hand.
Virender Sehwag found that you cannot pull McGrath off a length and get away with it, hitting straight to Michael Hussey at midwicket. Jacques Kallis was audacious enough to come down the pitch and hit McGrath over cover, but was soon trapped in front by one that swung in late. Then Brian Lara - a big draw in this team - drove Nathan Bracken straight to short cover. Rahul Dravid battled to steady the ship, but 50 for 3 became 75 for 4 when he mis-hit a pull off Brett Lee, who bowled with pace and bounce in his second spell.
Kevin Pietersen, who tormented the Australians all through the Ashes summer, came upon a bowler who he had not taken apart, and was trapped in front by one that Shane Watson got to jag back in. Soon after Watson should also have had Andrew Flintoff, who pulled straight to Lee at deep backward square-leg, but the catch was floored. Watson barely had time to bemoan his luck before inducing another false shot - this time from Sangakkara who cut towards point - only to see Ponting, juggle, fumble and somehow manage to hold on to the ball.
If the road ahead looked difficult at 101 for 6, it became next to impossible when Shahid Afridi, the Supersub, was trapped in front for 2 by a flat, quick offbreak from Andrew Symonds. Watson then capped off an excellent display on the field by swooping in from deep backward square-leg, picking the ball up one-handed and throwing the stumps down from outside the thirty-yard circle to find Shaun Pollock short of his crease.
Flintoff, like Sangakkara had earlier on, battled on, but without support there was never any real chance of launching an assault on 256 from 118 for 8. Sangakkara's 65 included some fine strokes as he uninhibitedly took the aerial route whenever offered width outside off, and flicked and drove wristily through the on-side when the ball was full and straight. But it was nowhere near enough. Flintoff kept the crowd interested with 38, but when he holed out to long-on with the score on 150, giving Watson his third wicket, the game was over.
Australia's batting could well have gone the World XI way, with wickets falling at regular intervals after a fine start. Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich, opening the batting, put on 80, thanks mainly to Gilchrist, who went after the bowling while Katich was content biding his time. Gilchrist had rattled up 45 off just 48 balls before being cleaned up by a full one from Kallis that came in just a touch. Ponting said hello to Flintoff with a cracking pulled six, but played one shot too many and perished on 23, trying to come down the pitch and loft Pollock out of the ground.
Then Muttiah Muralitharan applied the famous Kandy choke. Big spinning offbreaks garnished with the odd fizzing doosra proved too much to digest for Damien Martyn, who tamely chipped to mid-on, and Katich (68) who closed the face of the bat early and popped back a return catch. What Murali began Daniel Vettori ended. The hallmark of quality finger spin is accuracy, and Vettori held the ball virtually on a string, varying his pace, trajectory and angle of delivery like an old master.
Vettori accounted for Symonds, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Watson, but not before Symonds and Hussey had compiled invaluable 30s. When the Australian innings ended on 255, thanks to a late flurry from Lee, Vettori would have believed his 4 for 31 had put the World XI on track to victory. Then again, this is Australia, and dominating half the game is often not enough to ensure victory.
Adam Gilchrist b Kallis 45 (80 for 1)
Played around a full one that angled in from round the wicket
Ricky Ponting c Lara b Pollock 23 (128 for 2)
Mis-hit an attempted big shot coming down the pitch
Damien Martyn c Lara b Muralitharan 0 (128 for 3)
Chipped to mid-on
Simon Katich c & b Muralitharan 58 (142 for 4)
Closed the face of the bat too early
Michael Clarke c & b Vettori 6 (154 for 5)
Beaten in the flight
Andrew Symonds c Flintoff b Vettori 36 (206 for 6)
Holed out to long-on
Shane Watson c Lara b Vettori 8 (223 for 7)
Slogged to midwicket
Michael Hussey c Pietersen b Vettori 33 (231 for 8)
Went for a big hit at the end of the innings
Virender Sehwag c Hussey b McGrath 6 (18 for 1)
Pulled to midwicket
Jacques Kallis lbw b McGrath 8 (45 for 2)
Missed a full swinging delivery
Brian Lara c Symonds b Bracken 0 (50 for 3)
Drove on the up to short cover
Rahul Dravid c Ponting b Lee 4 (75 for 4)
Mis-hit a pull to off
Kevin Pietersen lbw b Watson 2 (82 for 5)
Missed one that jagged back in
Kumar Sangakkara c Ponting b Watson 65 (101 for 6)
Flashed to point
Shahid Afridi lbw b Symonds 2 (104 for 7)
Trapped in front by a fast, straight one
Shaun Pollock run out (Watson) 5 (118 for 8)
Beaten by a one-handed pick up and direct hit from deep backward square-leg
Andrew Flintoff c McGrath b Watson 38 (150 for 9)
Holed out to long-on
Daniel Vettori c Ponting b Lee 15 (162 for 10)
Guided to point
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo