It was no secret that Shane Watson’s toes were to be in the line of fire as Lasith Malinga came in to bowl the 31st over of the chase. Conscious of the fact,Aussie all-rounder stayed in the crease guarding the blockhole.
But Malinga came up with a just-short-of-full-length delivery tore through Watson’s non-stroke,pegging his middle-stump back by a few metres.
Following three terribly early wickets during the chase of 239,the Australian innings had hinged on Watson’s rearguard knock of 65 until then. But a lot more importantly — considering this was nothing but a practice match for the hosts – the hopes of the Indian team were riding piggyback on his watchful half-century. But then came the cold blooded ball,one that snapped the thread that held the weight of two nations.
As Watson made his very long walk back on the vast outfield of the Melbourne Cricket Ground,Malinga stretched his arms to its full wingspan,imitating the ‘aeroplane’ celebration. Perhaps it was to tell the Indian team to get ready to board the next one out of Australia. The Indians would by the end of Australia’s nine-run loss in the final group match of the tri-series,but not before David Hussey did a Virat Kohli by delaying the inevitable.
Unlike Kohli’s 133,Hussey’s 74 didn’t win the match for his side,but it did give an almighty scare to Mahela Jayawardene’s men. With half the Australian side back in the hut and just 140 on the board,there was little hope left for both the hosts and the Indian team. But Hussey,batting on 17 when his captain was dismissed,went about the situation with the perfect mix of big strokes,watchfulness and control. Rather unfortunately,as he would find out in the very next over,there would be little support from the other end.
Two balls after cutting off-spinner Sachitra Senanayake to the third-man hoardings for a boundary in the 32nd over,Hussey gave new man Dan Christian the strike. He probably wished he hadn’t,as Christian lobbed one straight back to the offie,who caught it inches from the soil. Christian complained on the legitimacy of the catch,but the replays sent him on his way for three. Hussey then showed similar faith in James Pattinson and Clint McKay,but after they failed him,he finally decided to hog the strike.
Husseys last stand
With 43 runs from 36 balls,the target was very much achievable from Hussey’s point of view. But only if someone had stayed longer with him in the middle. He crashed Nuwan Kulasekara into the extra-cover fence to bring up his fifty,before scrambling off Malinga’s penultimate over (the 47th) with three singles and a double to reduce the target to 23 runs off 18 balls.
And when Herath was collared into the sightscreen to reduce the target to 17 runs from as many balls,few doubted Australia’s charge to the podium. Until Xavier Doherty gave Sri Lanka their ninth in the penultimate over.
In the end,with just one wicket in hand,Hussey was left with no choice but to clear the ropes in the final over. As Kulasekara steamed in with 10 runs to get,Hussey couldn’t clear long-off,and the Lankans rightly celebrated like a team possessed.
They had not only ensured that the finals would be played between the very same sides,but also made sure that they are going to Brisbane with a three match winning streak against the finalists.
Few would have given Jayawardene’s side a chance when Hussey was going strong in the end,and even fewer when Christian and Pattinson destroyed seven of their batsmen for single-digit humiliations. But the three (Kumar Sangakkara,Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne) who stood up to be counted did well to make up for those who missed out.
With some decent runs on the board thanks to their half centuries,the Lankan lower middle-order tried to inject some potency into the total with rash strokes in the death overs. But all they managed to do was to give Christian his first ODI hat-trick and his maiden five-wicket haul. And for that,he will have to thank both Mike Hussey and umpire Rod Tucker.
Hussey did well to toggle Thisara Perera’s catch on both sides of the midwicket boundary ropes to give Christian the first of his three in a row,but the remaining two wickets were rather dicey.
The second ball hit Senanayake low on the pads as Christian appealed,but the replays later showed that the projection was marginally missing the batsman’s leg-stump. When Kulasekara was dismissed for the hat-trick,even the replays weren’t needed the ball would have missed a few leg stumps. Christian,however,wasn’t complaining not at that point at least.