Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Jayawardene Muscles Up

Dilshan was MOM
Sri Lanka squared the best of three final series of the CBA tournament, with a dismissive batting performance against Australia at the Adelaide Oval. The win continues Sri Lanka's recent dominance over Australia with its sixth win in their last nine encounters and its fourth from six matches in this current series. With the decider to be played at the same venue on Thursday, the Australians have a mountain to climb to avoid a series defeat at the hands of a batting line up which has no limits to its ability to chase down targets.

The mountain went from Kosciuszko to Everest when skipper Michael Clarke damaged a hamstring when batting and Vice Captain Shane Watson was moving gingerly towards the end of Sri Lanka's innings. Add Dave Warner's still repairing groin strain and you have a scenario which not only makes victory unlikely on Thursday but has longer term ramifications for the tour of the West Indies which starts on Friday week and will see five ODI's, two T20's and three Tests played in five weeks. Not much room for rum and Coca Cola on that trip.

Clarke on the way to 117
Australia's total was more than competitive on most grounds, dominated as it was by Warner and Clarke's 184 third wicket partnership in which both scored centuries. Clarke batted with the touch of a master, using the small square boundaries in much the same deliberate and calculated way that David Hookes or Darren Lehmann used to. He ran down Warner - a rare feat in itself - despite giving him 23 runs start and was first to three figures off only 81 balls. In an ODI career that has been light on hundreds - this only his seventh in 211 matches - this was clearly his best. It was a stamp of authority which demands any final doubters should scurry off to the overhead passes from which they throw their rocks and watch for a while. He handed the match to his bowlers, despite stern advice not to play from the team physio and paid a price for his courage.

Warner was circumspect by comparison. Perhaps conserving his injury, perhaps determined to ensure a foundation upon which others could build, the end result was a display that was unbelievably attacked by some "expert" opinion. Terry Alderman on ABC Grandstand's coverage claimed Warner's slowness (100 off 140 balls) had cost Australia 45 runs and therefore the match. Clem was a fine swing bowler and also smart enough to tackle an English yobbo on the field at the WACA and nearly end his Test career. Both  announce his credibility to pass judgment on Warner. Consecutive hundreds in ODI's is a rare achievement and the sooner we stop standing Warner in the shadow of his Test 180 against the Indians, the better the career of this young man will be.

Sri Lanka were ordinary in the field. Tillakaratne Dilshan's opened the bowling with a seven over spell of off spin, setting the Australians back on their tail and snaring Matthew Wade when he became impatient, misjudged the length and tried to pull a ball which bowled him making an ugly heave. At the end, Lasith Malinga took out Warner and the Bros Hussey with more of that deadly death bowling he is famed for. In between, Sri Lanka fielded like the curate's egg - good in parts - dropping five catches but Herath and Maharoof making stunning run outs.

Jayawardene superb with 80 off 76
In early February, the Sri Lankan skipper, Mahela Jayawardene, at a time when the media was concerned for the runs which might be in the Australian batting line up, claimed that it was the Australian bowling which Sri Lanka would target. There was uproar and suggestions of reprisals from the Aussie bowlers but the uproar has been nought but words and Jayawardene has been vindicated ever since. Last night, his batting line up brushed the Australians aside, scoring at more than a run a ball and chasing 271 with only 2 wickets down and nearly six overs to spare. Dilshan might have taken the MOTM award with a fine century but it was Jayawardene's innings which set the tone and pressured the Australians into crumbling. Kumar Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal finished the job in style.

The Australia bowling was dreadful, conceding wides and no balls under pressure. They all took a bath, with Lee particularly ordinary at the start when Australia needed him to stir up the classy Sri Lankan top four. The opportunity for a much needed early breakthrough was lost when Clint McKay stuck his big foot in it - well over it - and Jayawardene's edge was cancelled. Even Doherty failed, something he hasn't done all summer, with his first five overs costing 37. He was constantly taken to the short square sides but on a pitch truer than Abraham Lincoln, the margin for error for a finger spinner is very narrow and when they weren't smashing him square with cuts and sweeps, Dilshan and Jayawardene milked him like dairy farmers with big hands.

Batting on a traditional Adelaide Oval road, Sri Lanka owned the F1's while Australia was driving V-8's.

The key difference for a Sri Lanka which was badly on the slide in ICC rankings in both Test and ODI cricket before this tour of Australia would seem to be an obvious strengthening of the top four, yet only Chandimal is new. His form will carry him into the Test side but although Sangakkara had maintained the quality of his batting in the last twelve months, results were indicating that Dilshan and Jayawardene were badly on the slide. The difference has come with a change of captain. Jayawardene agreed to again assume the mantle of skipper after an unsuccessful run under Dilshan which saw Sri Lanka win only 1 of 11 Tests and 11 of 26 ODI's. Jayawardene's captaincy record dwarfs those returns (15 of 28 and 63 of 107) but it is the style of the captaincy which is so different. Sri Lanka were rudderless under the laissez faire cruising of Dilshan, where as Jayawardene is always in charge, always doing things, always standing up as a man players want to follow. Even last night, he took on the umpires - for too long as it turned out - to demand his team be fairly treated an in order to correct what he perceived to be the inappropriate actions of his opposite number Michael Clarke. Dislike the prolonged nature of the complaint for sure but it was an action which will further motivate players to back their skipper. He followed it up with the key innings of the match.

Jayawardene takes on Bruce Oxenford
In personal terms, the captaincy damaged Dilshan's batting, averaging lower in both forms of the game when he was skipper. Jayawardene is the opposite, averaging 16 more as skipper in Tests (66 compared to 50) and significantly higher in ODI's as well.

The final aspect to be admired about his leadership is his off field diplomacy, despite refusing to submit to the colonialism which still invades western media when speaking with or about players from the sub continent. When asked about the fine he had received from the match referee, he not only admitted he had argued for too long but agreed he had a responsibility to pay the fine. "Sure I'll pay the fine of 10% of my match fee ... if I ever get paid." It was a neat, humorous way to diffuse the controversy inherent in the question and a reminder to the cricket world of the financial burden his players have endured, having not been paid since December 2010.

Australia will be strapping on the spiked mountain boots as we speak but with ICC ratings on the line, England beware.