Making a final push

Making a final push

Coming off three consecutive wins against Aus,Lanka eye first tri-series trophy Down Under

A whole lot had changed for Shane Watson in the period of two press conferences as Australia’s captain. Attending the first one in Sydney — and although he scored just one run in that comeback game at the SCG — Watson was a glowing man,thanks to Australia’s five-point win over the Indians that helped them book their place in the finals.

In Melbourne on Friday,Watson had hit himself back into form with 65 crucial runs,but the face remained stern as a stone while addressing the media. The nine-run loss,Australia’s third in a row to their fellow finalists,had clearly hurt. “I’m just glad that Michael (Clarke) is back for tomorrow’s game for so many reasons,” he said. “Firstly,Australia will get its true captain back. And also,it will give us depth in the batting order to take on the Sri Lankans.”

It may have been an inconsequential game for the Australians at the MCG,but Watson knew that a day before the best-of-three-finals,starting Sunday at the Gabba in Brisbane,the Sri Lankans were going into the business end of a tri-series event they had never won — and they were going into it rather ironically as favourites.

Overcoming the odds

It has been an unbelievable journey for Mahela Jayawardene and his men. Coming into this tournament with a string of spirit-crushing losses to South Africa and playing without being paid by their board,the Lankans have dug deep into their mental resources and have produced some of the most entertaining cricket seen in this series.


Yes,they lost both their matches in the first round and yes,they were humiliated by the Indians,more specifically Virat Kohli,in Hobart last week. But for Jayawardene,it has all been a steep learning curve in this arduous road to the finals. “That’s just the way cricket goes. I’m very proud of the way our boys have responded to what happened in Hobart. They have shown a lot of character in picking themselves up and have played some terrific cricket.”

So,do the Lankans hold the mental edge over the home side or will the Australians look to set the record straight? Jayawardene believed the finals will have a bit of both. “I’m sure the Australians will come really hard at us. But we just have to make sure that we play the brand of cricket that we have always been playing. And if possible,try and improve on that.”

Unlike the belters in Melbourne,Sydney and Hobart,the three cities where Sri Lanka have recorded victories over the Aussies this series,Brisbane is said to be a pace bowler’s paradise. It made Watson claim that just playing on the Gabba surface will be a boost to their low morale.

“The Gabba is definitely an advantage,with the pace and bounce on offer. But it also means that the wicket will suit (Lasith) Malinga,and we know just how important he is to them. (It will be) a good contest.”

Formidable batting

Going into Sunday’s fixture,every Sri Lankan batsman of consequence has hit himself back into form. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara both have a fifty and a century each,Mahela Jayawardene and Lahiru Thirimanne have two fifties each,while Dinesh Chandimal has four. On the other hand,the Aussies have one man in terrific form — David Hussey. And despite batting at No.6,he has scored more than anyone else in this tournament.

With scores of 61*,27,72,58,26*,40*,54 and 74,Hussey junior has accumulated 412 runs at an average of 82.40 runs per game. Talking about him was one of the only things that made Watson happy on Friday evening.

“Absolutely brilliant,” Watson said. “To see how clean he has hit the ball all summer long has been a pleasure. I hope he can continue to do that on Sunday,and this time I also hope that one more guy can stick with him till the end.”

Had someone stuck with Hussey on Friday,they would perhaps have faced a side they had beaten twice in the series. But they didn’t,and Australia now take on a team who have dominated them in the last one month. Sri Lanka certainly know a thing or two about how to beat Australia in Australia,having also won a bilateral ODI series 2-1 two years ago — their first limited overs triumph here.

And a similar scoreline in the next three matches can give the Islanders their first tri-series trophy Down Under.

First final,live on Star Cricket: 8:50 am