Australia vs Sri Lanka at the SCG: Six Critical MomentsApril 9, 2015
Andrew Ramsay, 9 March 2015, courtesy of CRICKET.COM.AU where the title is “The Six Moments that Mattered,” http://www.cricket.com.au/news/five-memorable-moments-australia-sri-lanka-scg-cricket-world-cup-andrew-ramsey/2015-03-09
A costly catch, a golden innings and a clash of titans headline the memorable moments from the SCG. In bald terms, Australia’s 64-run victory that pushes them ahead of Sri Lanka on the Pool A points table and eases concerns about a potentially awkward quarter-final match-up would appear emphatically conclusive. But for all the imposing size of their total of 376 and the contributions of most batsmen, the Australians received more than the occasional scare as Sri Lanka took turns to pummel one of the competition’s best credentialed bowling attacks.
Here’s a handful of memorable moments from a hugely entertaining hit-out.
Michael Clarke’s afternoon: The Australia captain can’t seem to evade scrutiny, even when he’s conspicuously not involved on the field. His decision to push others ahead of him in the batting order during last Wednesday’s record-breaking run-fest in Perth was interpreted by some as a tacit indication that his recently repaired hamstring still wasn’t up to the rigours of international cricket.
That’s despite Clarke’s wearily repeated assurances that he is feeling in as good physical shape now as any stage over the past five years.
He even managed to put himself under pressure at the coin toss, having observed on match eve that if the SCG maintained the character it was exhibiting come match day the flipping of the florin might prove crucial and the team that got to bat first would bank an early advantage.
Clarke got his wish and, when Aaron Finch was comprehensively stumped in the ninth over of the innings, he also got his chance of coming to the wicket on what was a gem of a batting pitch and with a majority of the overs at his fingertips.
Initially content to play back-up singer to Steve Smith who was the dominant scorer in the first 50 of the pair’s 134-run third-wicket stand, Clarke soon found his range and combined lofted strokes that left the in-fielders scrambling with deft placement that did the same for those on the boundary.
His first half-century in international cricket since his epic century in that emotional and ultimately costly Adelaide Test against India three months ago came off 56 balls, and it was only as he aimed to up the tempo as the final 20 overs began that he perished.
The fact that Australia more than doubled their score from that point to ensure Sri Lanka had to make history to achieve victory pointed to the value of world-class batsmen in the middle-order before the power hitters unleash at the end.
The direct-hit run out of fellow veteran Mahela Jayawardene that was as pivotal as it was sorely needed rounded out a satisfying day for the Australia captain who, like his teammates, now enjoys a few days off before the final group match against Scotland in Hobart on Saturday.
Thisara Perera’s catch:
In light of his too-often-wayward bowling that ultimately yielded 87 runs from nine overs, Perera’s shots at redemption were expected to come with the bat. But with Smith and Clarke laying the foundation for a hefty total, Perera quite literally seized his chance to make a telling contribution four deliveries after Lasith Malinga had rattled Clarke’s stumps.
Knowing that a chance to get two fresh batsmen to the crease was their team’s best hope of slowing Australia’s charge heading into the final 20 overs, Perera set off early in pursuit of Smith’s lofted drive that contained a little too much loft and short a couple of clubs worth of drive.
Having watched the ball steeple over his fielding station at mid-off, Perera took half a dozen frantic strides and then stopped as he caught sight of a teammate steaming in from the long-on boundary and momentarily assessed it was best to leave it for the fielder running towards it.
But it then became clear the cavalry wasn’t going to arrive in time, so Perera restarted his dash, found himself awkwardly positioned as the ball closed in on terra firma and, at the critical moment, cradled it in both hands close to his chest as his feet went from under him.
It was a catch that could easily have turned Sri Lanka’s fortunes. As it was, it simply united Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson for the defining partnership of Australia’s innings.
Glenn Maxwell’s golden innings: When he discarded a gilt-edged chance for a maiden ODI century against Afghanistan last Wednesday, it was thought Glenn Maxwell would never have a better chance to snare himself a slice of World Cup history. Having reached 88 from just 39 balls against the bedazzled associate team, Maxwell looked to have the benchmark for the fastest hundred the tournament has seen (held by Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien from 50 balls) at his mercy.
Until he unselfishly holed out to extra cover as Australia chased (ultimately with success) the highest team total at a World Cup. Four days hence and that record was once more his for the plucking. True to his pre-tournament words that he would curb his usual rush to get his innings underway – even though he had reverse swept the second ball he faced against the Afghans for four – Maxwell scored at a run a ball for the first 10 deliveries he negotiated with a diligent respect.
He was seven balls in before he scored his first boundary. And 12 before he belted the first of his four sixes. But from there it was pure, refined Maxwell as he largely eschewed his more outrageous innovations in favour of more recognisable cricket shots, not that he sacrificed any potency in the process.
His half-century arrived at the usual clip, from 26 deliveries which in days of yore would have been sufficient on its own to send the telexes a-clattering. However, when Kumar Sangakkara failed to grasp the false stroke that appeared set to once again leave Maxwell marooned in the 90s, an opportunity to again take O’Brien’s record presented itself instead. An equation of five runs from four balls or less seemed absurdly straightforward for a batsman seemingly able to punch, flick, club or ramp the ball to whatever portion of unprotected boundary takes his fancy.
Whether he was oblivious of the honour that beckoned or was simply – given the sobering reprieve he had been gifted – galvanised into ensuring he was not left to rue another squandered start Maxwell played with a restraint not seen since those first six balls.
A moment to ink his name alongside the lone Irish representative currently in the game’s annals when Maxwell advised umpire Ian Gould – himself celebrating a century of ODI appearances – that the single that would have carried him to three figures off 50 deliveries was, in reality, a leg bye.
That it came off 51 will trouble Maxwell not a jot given the scope and sincerity of the celebration he unleashed when it was reached. A thrashing of his bat, a prolonged hug with the burly Watson, tear or three that might have been prompted by the conversion of a millstone into a milestone or by where he found himself upon completing his 100th run – just metres from where his close mate Phillip Hughes was felled, a death that Maxwell has revealed deeply affected him.
Or most likely, a hybrid of the two.
Tillakaratne Dilshan v Mitchell Johnson: Not only did Sri Lanka need to surpass the previous highest success ODI run chase the SCG has hosted, they need to get past it by almost 50 runs. Unheard of, the experts sniggered during the innings break, their derision increasing volume when Sri Lanka’s even more in-form opener Lahiru Thirimanne gloved a snorter from Mitchell Johnson’s opening over.
But the chorus of congratulation over their prescience subdued and was ultimately silenced in the space of half a dozen deliveries of Johnson’s third over, all of which the other opener Tillakaratne Dilshan dismissed to the boundary. A pair of scorching off drives when the Australia spearhead pitched up, followed by a hefty swing over mid-wicket.
Johnson, who must have experienced nasty flashbacks to the manhandling he received from Brendon McCullum in Auckland eight days earlier, decided it was time to dig one in and could do little but shrug his sizeable shoulders as Dilshan tugged it away over square leg. Pitching up again, Johnson was dismissed through the covers as if he were no more than a schoolyard trundle.
And when he went for his trusty change-up ball that earned him such acclaim when he spun it through Ajinkya Rahane’s defence in the Melbourne Test, Dilshan responded by propping, waiting for it to arrive and guiding it through the gap at cover to the delirious screams of the huge Sri Lanka contingent.
In the space of an over, Sri Lanka’s run rate had doubled to the seven they notionally needed to be any shot at an unlikely, unforgettable win.
Kumar Sangakkara’s milestone(s): So much has been penned about the elegant, articulate 37-year-old’s batting exploits and contribution to the game and to the broader community, some of it recently on this site, that the power of words to do justice to his deeds is ever diminishing. But the simplicity of numbers conveys just where the Sri Lankan batsman-wicketkeeper-statesman stands among the countless greats who have preceded him, and hope to follow.
After Dilshan, like a length of magnesium ribbon, burned brightly then slowly smouldered, Sangakkara cruised almost imperceptibly to 50 from a leisurely 45 balls, the 94th time he has raised his bat to acknowledge applause for posting a half-century in an ODI.
In the previous over, he had offered an even more perfunctory wave of the blade when a pair of runs he swept fine off Maxwell’s off-spin carried him to 14,000 in the 50-over game – only one player, India’s living deity Sachin Tendulkar, has managed more.
Sri Lanka’s hopes seemed to be headed back to the dressing shed with Dilshan and then the self-sacrifice run-out of Sangakkara’s schoolboy opponent, perennial international teammate and lifetime business partner Mahela Jayawardene.
But dripping in sweat and struggling with leg cramps, Sangakkara pushed on to his 24th ODI century – more than Australia’s current top five batsmen have made between them in their respective ODI careers – to raise albeit hazy hopes of one of his team’s greatest World Cup wins.
Dinesh Chandimal’s injury: The departure of Sri Lanka’s big four at the top of their order suggested their run chase might peter the way of so many teams eyeing a formidable target – early hope, hasty decline, heavy defeat. But that script seemed not to have made it into the hands of Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews who found a more than willing ally in Dinesh Chandimal and the set to savaging the soft spots in Australia’s bowling attack.
A 16-run over from Shane Watson was followed by 19 from Xavier Doherty, forcing Clarke to bring back his more steadier, if not more experienced hands of Faulkner and Johnson. But the resistance was not stemmed, and the fifth-wicket pair thrashed their way to a 50-run partnership off 26 balls as Sri Lanka closed to within 100 of their once-distant goal with the best part of 10 overs to go.
But on the cusp of reaching his half-century from a Maxwell-esque 22 balls, Chandimal appeared to suffer a severe leg cramp which then manifested itself into a hamstring strain. Prone on the ground for several minutes while the Sri Lanka physiotherapist worked furiously to get him up and running, Chandimal managed the former but was patently unable to manage the latter and – after several false starts – took himself from the field with an unbeaten 52 from 24 balls to his name.
The fact that total included eight boundaries and a sweetly-struck six suggested that even if he simply stood there and swung, he could help his team within striking distance of their goal.
But as the Sri Lankan tailenders swung and fell, Chandimal was not sighted coming through the gate to resume his innings. So instead of etching his name in Sri Lanka’s glorious cricket history, he now seems destined to be appended to their already lengthy injury list.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia.
Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.