Sri Lanka joined England in the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy after recording their second victory against the Australians. In doing so, the Sri Lankans subjected the holders to a group stage elimination.
Qualifying for the semi-finals was always going to be difficult for Australia - they were required to chase their target of 254 in just 29.1 overs to do so - and in the end this was too much to ask.
India now await Sri Lanka in a semi-final in Cardiff on Thursday. Had they managed to bowl the Australians out for less than 164, they would have topped the group and faced Group B runners-up South Africa.
Knowing they needed a large margin of victory, Australia invited Sri Lanka to bat in the hope that they could skittle them quickly and chase down a modest total in double quick time.
However, a superb innings of 84* from 81 balls from Mahela Jayawardene laid the foundations for Sri Lanka’s victory as they posted a defendable 253-8 from their 50 overs.
Man-of-the-match Jayawardene passed 11,000 ODI runs during his knock and anchored the innings from number five after a poor start for his team, who lost Kusal Perera and Kumar Sangakkara early to the excellent Australian openers Mitchell Johnson and Clint McKay.
An important period of recovery followed for the Sri Lankans, with Dilshan (34) and Thirimanne (57) occupying the crease but failing to score with any urgency.
A partnership of 65 between Jayawardene and Dinesh Chandimal provided Sri Lanka with impetus going into the closing stages of their innings and clever exploitation of the gaps from their top scorer led them to a respectable 253.
This score was enough to make Australia’s chances of qualifying largely academic. It required that they score at more than 10 runs per over and without their injured skipper Michael Clarke and suspended opener David Warner this always looked unlikely.
Shane Watson slapped the first ball of Australia’s innings through the covers for four as they looked to play on instinct and hit anything that was there to be hit. Watson’s poor run of form continued, however, as he was dismissed for just five, attempting to cut a straight delivery from Nuwan Kulasakera.
Glenn Maxwell, promoted to number three, was never going to die wondering and he provided the crowd with some entertainment and the Australian innings with some impetus as he reached a merry 32 before being undone by a classic Malinga yorker.
At 59-3, the target looked a long way off for the Australians and things only got worse when their captain George Bailey suffered a moment of madness and was run out by Kulasakera. Bailey was just trotting mid-pitch attempting to steal a leg-bye when the throw clattered into the stumps.
By now, Australia’s innings was following an all too familiar pattern for those fans battle hardened enough to have followed them in 2013. Almost half way through the year, Australia have failed to win an international match in any format away from home.
Adam Voges (49) and Matthew Wade (31) provided a decent rear-guard but once these two had fallen the Sri Lankans sensed victory was close. However, some obdurate and stubborn batting from the last wicket pairing of Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty slowed the victory party further. Having chipped away at the total, a final twist looked possible for the tail enders as they edged themselves to within 20 runs of an unlikely victory that would have eliminated Sri Lanka and sent New Zealand into the semi-finals. Dilshan’s outstanding return catch off McKay put paid to these thoughts, however, and Sri Lanka marched onwards.
Bailey remained proud in defeat once again: "Our goal was to do it in 29 overs, but we never got going. But it was good to see the last two fight it out."
Australia were left to rue the rain that intervened when they were well set against New Zealand five days earlier but will now set about preparing for the Ashes campaign that begins in Nottingham on July 10th.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, look in good shape, especially in the bowling department where Kulasakera and Herath looked particularly well suited to the conditions. They will face their sternest test yet in the form of the unbeaten Indians on Thursday.
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