Australia crush Sri Lanka

Australia cruised to a seven-wicket win over an under strength Sri Lanka team on Monday in what could be a rehearsal for the World Cup final.

With Lasith Malinga out injured and Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan rested for the Super Eights match, Sri Lanka’s second-string attack struggled to contain the Australian batsmen at the Grenada National Stadium.

Captain Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds shared an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 106 to take Australia to 232 for three with more than seven overs left after it had bowled out Sri Lanka for 226.

Ponting finished the match with a six for 66 not out and Symonds scored 63 to seal a routine win over one of the teams best-equipped to stop Australia winning a third straight World Cup.

”We’ve played some really good cricket right through the tournament,” Ponting said. ”I thought our new ball bowling today was outstanding. [Nathan] Bracken (4-19) today was brilliant and took early wickets for us.

”Our batting was again very good. We got off to another good start and gave a platform for the rest of the guys to chip in around it. All is coming together well.”

Australia’s 20th straight victory in the competition going back to the 1999 final was almost meaningless in terms of the championship because both teams had already qualified for the semifinals.

If Sri Lanka beats Ireland as expected in its final Super Eights game on Wednesday, it is sure to qualify in second or third place and avoid Australia in the semifinals.

The teams could meet in the final, as they did in 1996, so Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody left out Muralitharan and Vaas in an apparent attempt to deny Australia familiarity with its attack.

”We have been playing very good cricket but we have personnel that we use on and off,” Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said in reference to the changes.

”We had a lot of injury problems in the last months and we had to make sure we had our guys ready fit for the semifinals.”

Symonds said Australia wouldn’t leave out its best players.

”Key players don’t play in important games and sometimes sides can lose momentum and lose confidence,” the allrounder said. ”It’s not the way we would have done it, but they’re a different team to us.”

Jayawardene hit 72 after his side had slumped to 27-3 under the bowling of Bracken and Glenn McGrath. He rebuilt the innings alongside Chamara Silva, who struck 64 in a fourth-wicket stand of 140.

It was Jayawardene’s 38th one-day half century and seemed to have rallied the team before the four wickets fell for 17 runs to make it 184-8.

Australia fielded its strongest available lineup and, after being asked to bowl, tore through Sri Lanka’s top order with a spell of 1-3 in 14 balls.

The wayward Shaun Tait went for 18 off his first two overs but Bracken got rid of dangerman Sanath Jayasuriya leg-before-wicket for 12 midway through the fifth over. Kumar Sangakkara followed lbw to McGrath for nought halfway through the next over.

Silva and Jayawardene dug in and made steady, unspectacular progress. Silva brought up his 50 off Tait’s next over and but the partnership was broken when he top-edged Brad Hogg to Michael Clarke.

A collapse followed, Jayawardene’s 88-ball innings ending when he was stumped off Hogg by Adam Gilchrist.

Tait accounted for Tillekeratne Dilshan (seven) and Russel Arnold (one) in successive overs and Bracken had Nuwan Kulasekara caught at slip by Hayden. But Muralitharan’s replacement, Malinga Bandara, hit two huge sixes to carry Sri Lanka past 200 before going to McGrath for 17 off 19 balls.

Australia openers Hayden and Gilchrist then reached 69 off 11 overs, and Jayawardene gambled by bringing Arnold into the attack despite him having bowled just 6.1 overs in the tournament.

Although he conceded another eight runs including a six by Hayden, Arnold snared Hayden for 41 with his fifth ball, the opener mistiming another heave straight to Dilshan at mid-on. Gilchrist followed to Arnold’s second over, lbw for 30.

Clarke helped Ponting added 47 for the third wicket before he fell with 98 still needed, hitting Bandara to Dilshan at extra cover for 23.

That brought Symonds to the crease and he and his captain rarely looked in trouble but for a couple of run out calls. The 50 partnership came up in 55 balls and Ponting reached his 61st one-day half century in 67. Symonds then got to his 50 with a four off his 56th delivery.

The pair picked up boundaries with what looked like effortless ease. Symonds struck five fours and two sixes in his 22nd one-day half century, while Ponting managed four fours and a six, the latter taking his team past the victory target. – Sapa-AP

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