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21 March 2018 20:16 (South Africa)

Champions Trophy: Sri Lanka seals semi-final place in tense finish

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport

Australia continued its comical fall from grace as the team was sent crashing out of the Champions Trophy with just a single point to show for its efforts – or lack thereof. The result means Sri Lanka will take on India in the second semi-final at Cardiff on Thursday, while South Africa will square off against England on Wednesday. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It’s not often that a knockout competition has so much riding on the last group match. Yet Monday’s clash between Sri Lanka and Australia had everything depending on it – just one qualification spot was still up for grabs, but a number of scenarios meant that every team in the group could still qualify, even one of the sides not playing.

Despite their ghost being slain on the River Thames, the Australians somehow found some of that never-say-die spirit and Monday at The Oval was something quite extraordinary. Being set 254 for victory - for nothing more than pride and a place in their semi-finals for their neighbours - Australia fell just 20 runs short of staging a dramatic heist as Sri Lanka clinched a 20-run victory and sealed its spot in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.

England had already sealed its spot in the semi-finals by beating New Zealand, but Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand all still had a chance – all of it based on some rather intricate calculations.

New Zealand could qualify if Australia won after a certain number of overs, Australia would qualify if they chased down their total within a certain number of overs, and Sri Lanka could qualify by simply winning. But Sri Lanka also had to slog it out for the right to not face India in a semi-final.

Australia won the toss and elected to field first, and for the first time in the tournament, their bowlers managed to look cohesive in their approach. There was little intent of attack; instead, they conspired to restrict Sri Lanka and allow the pressure to build and let the wickets come from there. And wickets did come.

Kusal Perera continued his poor run of form and was dismissed by Mitchell Johnson just two balls into the Sri Lankan innings. He was followed  by the centurion from just a few nights ago, Kumar Sangakkara, and then Tillikaratne Dilshan, and soon Sri Lanka were looking pegged down at 92-3 after 22.2 overs.

Dilshan had played his part, though, combining with Lahiru Thirimanne for a 72-run stand. Thirimanne would soon be dismissed, with a pull straight to midwicket as he departed for a solid 57 off 86.

Mahela Jayawardene did the rest and steered the ship to safety, or at least to the dock where it wouldn’t drift too far away if they didn’t manage to drop the anchor. The former skipper contributed 84 off 81 notched up with his trademark island flair, ever-so-elegant in his approach as the Sri Lankans posted 253-8 in 50 overs.

The equation for Australia to progress meant that that they’d have to chase down the total in 29.1 overs or less. For Lanka to not face India in the semi-finals, they needed to restrict Australia to 164 – or simply win in order to qualify. If Australia won in 29.1 overs or more, Sri Lanka would be knocked out and New Zealand would progress.

Australia came out firing, but not in the way you'd expect - more like a misfiring car which had now blown a gasket. With the pressure on them to chase down a target in a set amount of overs, casualties were always expected, however. Glenn Maxwell briefly looked like the million dollar baby he is, but he too was soon undone by the wizardry of Malinga.

The Aussies' woes culminated in a comical run out of skipper George Bailey who attempted to steal a leg bye, but was caught well short of his crease, and so the disaster continued for Australia as they were reduced to 69-4, then 80-5, eventually 168-8.

Adam Voges soldiered on, though, and briefly looked like he might be able to help Australia clinch victory - and he went out swinging. Unbeaten on 49, Voges hit out - but not far enough - and was caught at long on to take Australia to 192-9. It all looked dead and buried, but Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty had other ideas. The two combined for a 41-run partnership, lasting 43 minutes as it looked for just a brief moment that the Australians might manage to pull off a heist.

That hope was ill-fated, though, and a blinder of a catch from Dilshan off his own bowling in the 43rd over sealed the deal for Sri Lanka. Dilshan set off on an Imran Tahir-esque celebration as his side sealed the win.

It wasn’t all bad for Australia. The sting had been taken out of the looming loss by the time the 29 overs had ticked over, but skipper George Bailey still managed a smile talking about the last-wicket stand.

“There’s a bit of competition between Xavier and Clint. They both think they should bat number ten and the deal today was whoever ended not out would get the promotion. It would have been nice to get the win and it was really nice to see a little bit of fight,” Bailey said.

He spent the rest of his post-match press conference as stand-in captain fielding questions about the upcoming Ashes series as much as he could, all with a smile.  There isn’t much to smile about in Australian cricket at the moment, but at least Bailey is taking it on the chin.

Result summary

Sri Lanka: 253-8 (50 overs)

L Thirimanne 57 (86), M Jayawardene 84* (81); M Johnson 10-0-48-3, X Doherty 10-1-30-1

Australia: A Voges 49 (62), Glenn Maxwell 32 (20); Nuwan Kulasekara 9-0-42-3, Rangana Herath 10-0-48-2

Sri Lanka won by 20 runs DM

Photo: Sri Lanka's Tillakaratne Dilshan (centre) celebrates after catching Australia's Clint McKay as his team qualified for the semi finals in the ICC Champions Trophy group A match at The Oval cricket ground, London June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport

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