Gilchrist Stars in Easy Win

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the VB Series Trophy will return to its spot in Australia’s trophy cabinet after a comfortable win in the third and final match in the finals series at the ‘Gabba tonight. Although they recovered after losing key wickets early in their innings to post a competitive and defendable total, Adam Gilchrist had put the result beyond any doubt by a quarter of the way through the Australian chase. In a first wicket partnership with Simon Katich worth 196 runs, Gilchrist scored 122 from 91 balls, bringing up the fastest century ever scored in ODIs in Australia, breaking his own record of 76 balls with a 67-ball ton tonight.

The day started well enough for Sri Lanka when Marvan Atapattu won the toss and chose to bat first, but with the score on seven in just the fourth over the man they rely so heavily on, Sanath Jayasuriya, was dismissed. He got the loose ball he had been waiting for, but in attempting to hit it to or even over the boundary he managed only to edge it straight up into the air and down it came into the safe waiting hands of Andrew Symonds. Symonds was again involved four overs later when Attapattu followed, striking a ball well only to see it taken comfortably one-handed. It’s not usual to see the words comfortably and one-handed so close together, but Symonds made it seem absolutely simple as he leapt up off the ground to take the ball as it was heading rapidly over his head.

With the two openers gone and the situation looking perilous at 28-2, a partnership was desperately needed. And two of the most consistent performers of the series for Sri Lanka, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, were the ones who provided it. After a shaky start, with two catches being put down, they started to settle in and rebuild the innings. In a partnership worth exactly 100 in just over 20 overs together, the two rotated the strike nicely in the oppressive heat and humidity and played some impressive shots as both recorded half-centuries. The temperature seemed to be having a considerable effect on Sangakkara, who was visibly uncomfortable and appeared absolutely exhausted by the time he was trapped in front by part-timer Michael Clarke for 59.

It was another tired looking shot that saw the end of Jayawardene’s innings, but not before a 76-run stand with Russel Arnold, during which Jayawardene moved through to 86 from just 91 balls in an excellent innings which was ended when he hit the ball straight to Simon Katich at point. Arnold kept going though, sealing his return to form after a battling start to the tournament with a brilliantly timed 76 from 71 balls, starting slowly but building momentum as his innings progressed. He hit just four boundaries in his innings, with the rest of his runs coming from quick running between the wickets.

After losing Tillakaratne Dilshan for just three, Arnold appeared to have found some support in Chamara Kapugedera, who showed his intent with a powerful six early in his innings. He only reached nine though before playing what looked to be a good shot, but Symonds again ensured he was not a friend of opposition batsmen, diving forwards after having to run in and look into the sun to take a very good catch. Normally, that would be the best catch of the match. But not today. Three overs later, Arnold hit a ball from Bracken in the air down the ground, it seemed a well placed shot and likely to land safely between the two fielders, as Arnold had been doing a good job of doing throughout the afternoon. But Ricky Ponting, fielding on the circle, made sure it didn’t. Running backwards, Ponting jumped up in the air with his right arm outstretched behind him, landing on his back with the ball still in his hand having taken a catch that was difficult to believe had really happened.

Some daring running between the wickets in the last two overs, running which resulted in two run outs, saw Sri Lanka through to 266-9, a score which they would have been fairly happy with, especially after the worrying start. It was a total they had a chance of defending, and seemed likely to at least give the Australians a challenge as they sought to continue their possession of the VB Series trophy. Well, you’d think it would give them a challenge.

With a player like Gilchrist, it’s important that you take any small chance you’re given. Sri Lanka unfortunately didn’t. It wasn’t an easy catch, but the one Jayasuriya dropped in the outfield probably should have been caught, and in the end had a huge effect on the outcome of the match. It was a desperate attempt, juggling it at the first attempt and falling over, thrusting his arm out to have another try, but the ball landed on the ground, much to the delight of the crowd. The delight was soon joined by almost silent awe as he attacked the Sri Lankan bowlers mercilessly in his 91-ball onslaught, which included 13 fours and four sixes. There was nothing Sri Lanka could do to stop it. Gilchrist is one of the very few players who, when they are on form, give the fielding team no choice but to enjoy the spectacle.

Gilchrist’s stunning innings finally came to an end when he was clean bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, at which point the crowd fell silent, struggling to understand that Gilchrist had failed to hit the ball with the middle of his bat, as he had done for the last hour and a half. It was fitting that Murali took the wicket, in what was likely his last appearance in Australia it was good that he could in a way make up for his career-worst 0-99 in Sydney.

Katich played a patient and valuable innings at the other end. Seemingly dawdling at times, having scored 49 at the time Gilchrist brought up his century, Katich was in fact striking at over sixty runs per hundred balls but was just made to look extremely slow by the fireworks at the other end. In a crucial innings for his one-day international career, with a spot in the ODI squad for the series in South Africa that may or may not be his, Katich played a perfect support role for Gilchrist and played some fantastic shots of his own. His maiden ODI century was extremely well-deserved and attracted an excellent reception from the crowd. His enjoyment at reaching the century and the encouragement given to him by Gilchrist during their partnership suggests that he just may have been given a call from the selectors with some not so good news. His unbeaten 107 could not have been a clearer message to the selectors.

With Ricky Ponting at the other end Katich guided Australia through to the target with five overs to spare and an amazing nine wickets in hand. The match was really not as one-sided as the score makes it look, the Sri Lankans were competitive throughout and it was really just the unbreakable opening partnership and heartbreaking hitting by Gilchrist that made the difference. The contrasting innings scorecards, with Sri Lanka’s lower middle order fightback and Australia’s complete top-order performance, shows the effect one or more of the top three batsmen scoring a century and a big opening partnership has on the final score.

It was an almost perfect performance from Australia, and after the two early dropped catches the almost can be taken out of the sentence. The fielding was superb, the bowling tight, even though Brett Lee went wicketless once again which means he failed to take a single wicket in the finals, and the batting was extraordinary. Jayawardene, Arnold and Sangakkara all batted very well, but Australia’s openers just batted even better. Gilchrist’s 122 was the innings that will attract all the attention and the headlines, and deservedly so, it was a marvellous display of clean and powerful hitting, but Simon Katich should also be recognised for his determined innings and well-deserved century.

It was a more competitive series than we have seen in recent years, but once again Australia have won, and once again they hold the VB Series trophy. It will be difficult for England and New Zealand to take it off them next summer.

Sri Lanka 266-9
Mahela Jayawardene 86, Russel Arnold 76
Nathan Bracken 3-44, Stuart Clark 2-45

Australia won by 9 wickets.

Australia 267-1
Adam Gilchrist 122, Simon Katich 107no
Muttiah Muralitharan 1-50

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Adam Gilchrist (122)

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Richard Edmunds