Australia snatches dramatic win

CRICKET

Three weeks after Australia squandered a golden opportunity to beat South Africa in Adelaide its bowlers have delivered a decisive final-session performance against Sri Lanka to secure its first Test win of the summer.

Australia entered the last session of day five needing six wickets at Bellerive Oval, one more than it needed at the Adelaide Oval against the Proteas when it fell short by two scalps.

Sri Lanka, desperate to salvage a draw like South Africa did successfully last month, fought hard but lost 6-69 in that last session to be all out for 255 in the 120th over.

The 137-run win meant that although Australia will advance to the Boxing Day Test without Ben Hilfenhaus due to injury, and possibly captain Michael Clarke for the same reason, it will go with a 1:0 series lead and a chance to retain the Warne-Muralidaran Trophy at the MCG.

Peter Siddle reinforced his status as the best bowler in the match, and Australia's pace leader, to claim a four-wicket haul for match figures of 9-104 but was denied his maiden 10-wicket haul by a devastating late spell from Mitch Starc, who claimed 5-63.

At tea Sri Lanka was 4-186, still trailing Australia by 206 runs, with its best batsmen Kumar Sangakkara (63) and captain Mahela Jayawardene (19) both already out. The more pertinent issue than reaching the target of 393 was that there were only 36 overs due to be bowled in the last session.

If Sri Lanka had survived it would have been the first time Australia has failed to win any of its first four Tests of a home summer since 1986-87, when it recorded two losses and two draws against England.

Two previous rain delays on day five at Bellerive Oval have increased the likelihood that any further delays would result in a further reduction of overs, behind the two which were lost in the second rain delay.

The visitors began the last session with their last recognised batsmen, Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews, at the crease, respectively on 38 and 11.

With Sri Lanka needing to score at more than five and a half runs an over to secure victory, and showing no inclination to do so, Clarke went fiercely on the attack, placing most of his fielders in catching positions.

Australia's two best bowlers in the match, Siddle and Shane Watson, were entrusted with the ball.

In the fourth over of the last session the home team received a significant boost when vice-captain Mathews meekly wafted at a ball from Siddle well away from his off-stump and delivered a simple catch to Wade, who had reclaimed the wicketkeeping gloves after - bizarrely - bowling the last over before tea. It ended the partnership between he and Samaraweera on 50.

While the wicket of Mathews seemingly heralded the start of the Sri Lankan tail the confident start of wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene was a reminder that his partnership with Samaraweera had the potential to be crucial.

Within 10 overs, however, both batsmen were back in the Bellerive Oval dressing rooms.

In the 102nd over of the innings Siddle angled a ball into the pads of Samaraweera that moved even further off the pitch to beat the right-hander's inside edge. Samaraweera, as Sri Lanka's last specialist batsman, unsurprisingly challenged umpire Nigel Llong's leg-before decision but lost, which also exhausted Sri Lanka's allocation. It also left him one run short of a deserved half-century.

When Siddle was finally given a break in the 108th over, after bowling his 51st over for the match, left-armer Mitch Starc made his biggest contribution for the match. He removed wicketkeeper Jayawardene (21) and tailenders Kulasekera (9), Rangana Herath (8) and Shaminda Eranga (6) in a spell too menacing for the calibre of batsmen he was bowling to.

Earlier, Sri Lanka started day five brightly after resuming at 2-65, with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene successfully navigating their team safely to drinks 65 minutes into the session at 2-110.

Australia's only breakthrough came in the second over after drinks. Captain Jayawardene pushed hard at a delivery outside off-stump from Siddle and on 19 offered an edge, which was superbly taken at first slip by Clarke. The injured captain's elation at claiming the ankle-high chance to his right was evident in his celebration. It also contrasted greatly with the straightforward chance Clarke spilled late on day four from Sangakkara off the bowling of Nathan Lyon.

Australia turned - unsuccessfully - to the part-time leg-spin of David Warner in an attempt to make a further breakthrough.

Sri Lanka received a significant boost 10 minutes before the break when Sangakkara, then on 54, was given out leg-before after he attempted to pull Shane Watson into the leg-side but was struck on the pads when the ball kept low. Umpire Llong's decision was overturned on appeal, with the replay showing left-handed Sangakkara had been struck outside the line of off-stump by Watson, who was bowling from around the wicket.

The visitors' got another boost in the fourth over after lunch when Samaraweera was adjudged leg-before to Siddle by Llong for 18. Samaraweera's decision to challenge was vindicated when the replay suggested he had been struck by Siddle just outside the line of off-stump.

Siddle's - and Australian team's - frustration would have been eased in his next over when the resilient paceman trapped Sangakkara leg-before with a good-length delivery that pitched on the left-hander's leg-stump. Sangakkara's review was futile as he ball was predicted to hit middle-stump about 10 centimetres below the top, forcing the veteran's departure for 63.

In the remaining 18 overs of the middle session, which included the two rain delays, Clarke used all of his specialist bowlers and also employed the second new ball, all without reward. In the last over before the break he took the drastic step of getting wicketkeeper Wade to bowl his previously unseen right-arm mediums, with Phillip Hughes temporarily taking the gloves. In the last session, however, he did not have to rely on unorthodoxy to secure his team's first win of the summer.

smh.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop