Aussies close in on finals

Australia’s decision to rest skipper Ricky Ponting for the Australia Day clash with Sri Lanka in Adelaide today has been vindicated after a five wicket win over the tourists.

While Ponting’s omission had been the talking point in the build-up to the match, it was the late withdrawal of Sri Lankan veteran Sanath Jayasuriya just minutes before the toss which was to prove more decisive to today’s result.

Jayasuriya was sidelined with a shoulder injury and his absence was felt almost immediately as Marvan Atapattu’s decision to bat first saw the Sri Lankans crawl to just 16 from the first eight overs.

Openers Jehan Mubarak and Upul Tharanga then started to free their arms but didn’t build on the starts.

Mubarak was first to go, driving Andrew Symonds to Brett Lee for 34 (1-53) before Tharanga’s long knock ended on 31 when he lobbed Glenn McGrath straight down Damien Martyn’s throat (2-96).

When Brad Hogg then slipped one through Kumar Sangakkara’s defences, the tourists were 3-100 and in need of some balance to their innings.

Attapattu provided it with a well made 32, but his dismissal sparked a mini-collapse as three wickets went down for 11 runs to put the tourists in serious trouble at 6-167.

But Russell Arnold (27*) steered the tail to something approaching a defendable target as the Sri Lankans finished at 8-218.

Symonds was the pick of the bowlers with three wickets but Nathan Bracken and Hogg both chipped in with economical spells and crucial wickets.

In reply the Australians looked like the decision to let Ponting have the day off would prove sensible as Adam Gilchrist (34) and Simon Katich (52) got the hosts off to a blazing start.

Despite Nuwan Kulasekara (2-32) providing the initial breakthrough, it was looking like a regualtion victory for the Australians, with Damien Martyn (46) and Andrew Symonds (32) steering the ship.

But cricket has a habit of keeping you on your toes and when master bowler Muttiah Muralitharan dismissed first Symonds and then Martyn with the score in the 170s some nerves started jangling across the capacity Adelaide Oval crowd.

But although it took 48.3 overs, Mike Hussey (25*) and Michael Clarke (16*) managed to steer the Aussies home and put one foot into the VB Series finals as they reached the target to finish at 5-219.

And while all is rosy for the host nation at the moment it’s less so for the Sri Lankans, who will hope an injury sustained by Atapattu early in the Australian innings is not serious and that Jayasuriya’s problems also clear up so they can remain in this series.

Sri Lanka: 8 for 218 Mubarak 34, Atapattu 32, Symonds 3/48, Hogg 2/35
Australia: 5 for 219 Katich 52, Martyn 46, Muralitharan 2/35, Kulasekara 2/32

Australia win by five wickets

Cricket Web Player of the Match:
Andrew Symonds 3/48 and 32 runs

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