Colombo: Crisis? What crisis? To watch Australia demolish Sri Lanka in the fourth ODI in Colombo, it would be easy to believe all was well with Australian cricket. Thanks to some fine bowling from Xavier Doherty and Brett Lee, a calm innings from Shaun Marsh, and a couple of brain explosions from Sri Lankan batsmen, Australia secured the series with one match to play, with a five-wicket win in the fourth ODI.
Sri Lanka's 132 was never likely to be enough to keep the series alive, and so it proved, although there was one significant highlight late in the game, an unexpected triple-wicket maiden from their debutant spinner, Seekkuge Prasanna. In fact, the five wickets Sri Lanka collected came in two overs, after an earlier double-wicket maiden from Lasith Malinga.
Prasanna had Marsh caught behind cutting for 71, and followed next ball with Michael Hussey, who edged behind for a golden duck. The hat-trick ball was negotiated by David Hussey, but he fell from the very next delivery when he played back to a ball that was much too full, and was bowled, to leave Prasanna with 3 for 32.
But by then, Australia were ten runs from victory, and Michael Clarke (38 not out) and Brad Haddin saw the chase home in the 29th over. For most of the match, it seemed like business as usual for the Australians, despite the turmoil back home after the release of the Argus report. But the atmosphere in the dressing room must be like when lovers live together after a breakup. Greg Chappell remains the selector on duty, in the knowledge that his duties will shortly be given to somebody else.
Tim Nielsen, the incumbent coach, could also lose his job before the Australian summer, but for now has been promoted to the touring selection panel. At least they made one good decision ahead of this match, with the inclusion of Marsh, who looks set to become Shane Watson's long-term opening partner after the out-of-form Brad Haddin was dropped down the order.
In a chase of 133, it was important that Marsh kept a cool head after Malinga snared Watson and Ricky Ponting to leave the score at 26 for 2. Watson drove Malinga to mid-on and two balls later Ponting pulled a catch to midwicket, but a typically sensible innings from Marsh and Clarke ensured the hard work of the bowlers would not be wasted.
Marsh played his usual classy game, taking few risks while cutting and pulling with precision, and he brought up his half-century with a lovely cut for four off Tillakaratne Dilshan. Marsh can take some of the credit for the victory, but the most important work had been done earlier, when Lee and Doherty collected four wickets each.
It was a terribly lacklustre batting performance from Sri Lanka, the only highlight of which was a patient half-century from Mahela Jayawardene. For the fourth time in the series, Sri Lanka batted first, and for the third time they failed to see out their 50 overs. But this was by far their worst effort of the series: nobody after the top four reached double figures, and the last seven wickets came in the space of 37 runs.
It was a major disappointment for Jayawardene, who worked hard for 53. He had little support after Kumar Sangakkara (31) was caught at long-on trying to clear the boundary off Doherty. Sangakkara and Jayawardene had rebuilt calmly after both openers departed early, but once their 71-run stand ended, it was all downhill for the hosts.
The key period came when Doherty collected three wickets in nine balls, beginning with the dismissal of Sangakkara. Chamara Silva had kept his spot ahead of the equally out-of-form Dinesh Chandimal, but will be in danger of being dropped after his second-ball duck. Silva simply prodded forward tamely and missed an arm ball, and was given out lbw.
Soon afterwards Angelo Mathews (6) was stumped when he advanced and had a wild swing, beaten comprehensively by Doherty's flight and turn. Nuwan Kulasekara was trapped lbw by the accurate Shane Watson and Shaminda Eranga was caught at third man when he tried to use the pace of Lee to his advantage, but picked out Doug Bollinger on the boundary.
The wickets just kept falling. Prasanna was lbw to Doherty, who finished with 4 for 28, his best figures in a one-day international, while Lee ended up with 4 for 15 by collecting the final two. Jayawardene was trying for some late runs when he top-edged an attempted pull and was caught and bowled by Lee, who next ball rattled the stumps of Malinga with a fast yorker.
It was far from the result Sri Lanka expected after Dilshan won the toss, but the scene was set when he didn't spend long at the crease. Dilshan tried to cut a Bollinger delivery that was too close to his body and edged behind on 12, and soon afterwards Upul Tharanga drove wildly at a Lee yorker and was bowled.
Australia were on top for the rest of the match. As the Argus report highlighted, Test cricket must be Australia's major focus, so the upcoming five-day series is the real challenge. But for now, Australia's team can celebrate. How much Nielsen and Chappell enjoy the win, though, is anyone's guess.