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Gilly steers Australia to glory

Adam Gilchrist's innings of sheer greatness lifted Australia to an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup, but the 53-run victory over Sri Lanka was sealed in complete darkness in a farcical finish to the tournament.

The Australians thought they had won the Cup when bad light was called at 7-206 in Sri Lanka's run chase. They jumped all over each other in celebration and Glenn McGrath extracted a stump to commemorate the perfect finish to his career.

The umpires Aleem Dar and Steve Bucknor seemed to indicate the game was not over, and as darkness engulfed Kensington Oval the Australians reluctantly resumed their places and the Sri Lankan batsmen were recalled. Tiny floodlights were switched on, then switched off again, and the ground staff had to replace the markers for the 30-yard circle.

The bizarre end to the game, with Andrew Symonds bowling his off spin in the dark, was an unfortunate finish to a rain-affected affair lit up by Gilchrist. He blazed to a scintillating 149 - one of the one-day game's greatest knocks - as Australia compiled 4-281 in a match reduced to 38 overs a side by rain. The total would have been respectable in a 50-over game; in a shortened one it was insurmountable.

Australia's utter domination of the tournament reached a crescendo in the final as the vice-captain's combination of awesome power and sweet timing overwhelmed the fancied Sri Lankan attack. The victory completed a remarkable hat-trick for an Australian team unbeaten in 28 successive World Cup games and with a scarcely believable winning streak of 22 cup matches stretching back to 1999.

Gilchrist has played in all of them. Today his century came up in 72 balls, and his innings consumed 104. It eclipsed Ricky Ponting's 140 not out in the 2003 final against India, and is destined to be remembered alongside the previous World Cup final heroics of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Aravinda de Silva.

Gilchrist loves a big occasion, having peeled off 54 from 36 balls in the 1999 final at Lord's and four years later demolished the Indian attack with 57 from 48 at the Wanderers ground in Johannesburg. He saved his finest performance of this tournament until last, having been quiet by his own standards and overshadowed by his long-time opening partner Matthew Hayden in the previous games. This time Hayden played the quiet man as Gilchrist thundered.

After Ponting won the toss and batted, and after a long rain delay, Gilchrist took an instant liking to Chaminda Vaas, dispatching him for six and four and causing wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara to be called up to the stumps.

Cleverly, the Australians picked their targets. Impressive young slinger Lasith Malinga toned down his pace in favour of accuracy, and conceded only six runs in his first, four-over spell.

They were not so kind to Dilhara Fernando. Sri Lanka's third paceman is a nervous character who somehow kept his place in the team after seizing up in the semi-final.

He dropped a low, sharp caught-and-bowled chance when Gilchrist was on 31 and came under sustained assault from the marauding 'keeper-batsman who smashed him for a flat six over long off to take the opening stand past 100, and embraced Hayden in the middle of the pitch to mark the moment. A lovely on-drive followed, and the partnership expanded to 172 before Hayden was snaffled by Mahela Jayawardene in the covers.

Jayawardene was forced to pull out his trump card, Muthiah Muralidaran, in the 11th over, and with wickets in hand the Australians did not spare him, either. Gilchrist clubbed Murali over mid-wicket for six, on one of the half-dozen occasions he cleared the fence.

His 15th one-day international century was raised with a boundary cracked down the ground off Malinga, and moved him to joyously acknowledge all parts of the packed stadium. A top edge to mid-wicket eventually ended the party, but it was the smallest of consolations for the pummelled Fernando, whose eight overs leaked 74 runs.

There was only one man in the Sri Lankan dressing room, and possibly on the planet, capable of conjuring a performance explosive enough to chase down such a target, and for a while Sanath Jayasuriya made the noisy Sri Lankans in the crowd believe.

He pounded Shane Watson for three fours in an over and found an enthusiastic accomplice in Sangakkara, who charged, drove and pulled Glenn McGrath to the boundary in the Australian's farewell game.

Their partnership of 116 was fast and entertaining, but when spinners Brad Hogg and Michael Clarke entered the fray, and Jayasuriya was bowled for 63 trying to smash Clarke out of the ground, the reality of the situation set in. When the rain came again, with Jayawardene and Chamara Silva getting set, the Sri Lankans needed more than 10 an over.

The target was reduced to 269 and the overs to 36 under the Duckworth-Lewis system, and Jayawardene was out lbw to Watson soon afterwards. The middle order buckled beneath the enormity of the task, and to be fair they could not possibly have been able to see the ball in the dusky conditions.

McGrath claimed his final wicket in international cricket when Russel Arnold bobbed a full toss up to the diving Gilchrist. After the chase appeared to be called off, the celebrations began. They turned out to be premature.

Cleverly, the Australians picked their targets. Impressive young slinger Lasith Malinga toned down his pace in favour of accuracy, and conceded only six runs in his first, four-over spell.

They were not so kind to Dilhara Fernando. Sri Lanka's third paceman is a nervous character who somehow kept his place in the team after seizing up in the semi-final.

He dropped a low, sharp caught-and-bowled chance when Gilchrist was on 31 and came under sustained assault from the marauding 'keeper-batsman who smashed him for a flat six over long off to take the opening stand past 100, and embraced Hayden in the middle of the pitch to mark the moment. A lovely on-drive followed, and the partnership expanded to 172 before Hayden was snaffled by Mahela Jayawardene in the covers.

Jayawardene was forced to pull out his trump card, Muthiah Muralidaran, in the 11th over, and with wickets in hand the Australians did not spare him, either. Gilchrist clubbed Murali over mid-wicket for six, on one of the half-dozen occasions he cleared the fence.

His 15th one-day international century was raised with a boundary cracked down the ground off Malinga, and moved him to joyously acknowledge all parts of the packed stadium. A top edge to mid-wicket eventually ended the party, but it was the smallest of consolations for the pummelled Fernando, whose eight overs leaked 74 runs.

There was only one man in the Sri Lankan dressing room, and possibly on the planet, capable of conjuring a performance explosive enough to chase down such a target, and for a while Sanath Jayasuriya made the noisy Sri Lankans in the crowd believe.

He pounded Shane Watson for three fours in an over and found an enthusiastic accomplice in Sangakkara, who charged, drove and pulled Glenn McGrath to the boundary in the Australian's farewell game.

Their partnership of 116 was fast and entertaining, but when spinners Brad Hogg and Michael Clarke entered the fray, and Jayasuriya was bowled for 63 trying to smash Clarke out of the ground, the reality of the situation set in. When the rain came again, with Jayawardene and Chamara Silva getting set, the Sri Lankans needed more than 10 an over.

The target was reduced to 269 and the overs to 36 under the Duckworth-Lewis system, and Jayawardene was out lbw to Watson soon afterwards. The middle order buckled beneath the enormity of the task, and to be fair they could not possibly have been able to see the ball in the dusky conditions.

McGrath claimed his final wicket in international cricket when Russel Arnold bobbed a full toss up to the diving Gilchrist. After the chase appeared to be called off, the celebrations began. They turned out to be premature.

source - theage.com.au
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