This match had enough permutations and combinations to keep a mathematics student more than happy. At halfway, Australia knew that they would have to reach the target of 254 in 29.1 overs or less to qualify. For Sri Lanka, a win was enough, though restricting Australia to less than 164 would have ensured top spot in the group and an Oval semifinal against South Africa. Australia went for glory, and Sri Lanka won by 20 runs, but the margin was not enough to avoid India - newly anointed tournament favourites - in the Cardiff semifinal on Thursday (June 20). (Match highlights, as it happened)
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That Australia were going to tilt at the windmill was never in doubt. But they could find neither the quality nor the partnerships to worry Sri Lanka, who picked up wickets every time the run rate looked to be assuming worrying proportions. Until Adam Voges and Matthew Wade added 47 for the sixth wicket, with the 29.1-over mission near impossible, the biggest partnership was 36 for the second wicket between Glenn Maxwell and Phil Hughes. (Read: Australia's attacking approach helped us win, says Mahela Jayawardene)
Both Shane Watson and Hughes fell to Nuwan Kulasekara, one inside-edging on to the stumps and the other nicking to the keeper. Glenn Maxwell smacked five fours and a six to remind people why he had fetched $US 1 million at the last IPL auction, but the Big Show became a no show when Lasith Malinga speared one into the base of leg stump. George Bailey made just four before setting off dozily for a leg bye. Kulasekara's direct hit from short fine leg set him on his way.
Mitchell Marsh scratched around 14 balls before Angelo Mathews ended his misery, and that phase of play was enough to all but ensure that there would be no Australian miracle. Wade chanced his arm for 31 from 23 balls, while James Faulkner chipped in with 17, but both fell going for one big hit too many.
Voges was ninth out after top-scoring with 49, but there was still time for Clint McKay to score 30 and give Sri Lanka a few palpitations. He and Xavier Doherty added 41 before Dilshan flung himself to his left to take a brilliant return catch. There were still 45 balls left to be bowled, and having won the last two editions of the Champions Trophy, Australia headed home with just a point to show for their efforts.
Two early wickets had given them hope, even as Michael Clarke continued to watch from the sidelines, but a solid half-century from Lahiru Thirimanne and a far more fluent one from Mahela Jayawardene ensured that their competition was almost certainly over. Jayawardene, who passed 11,000 One-Day Internationals runs along the way, finished with 84 not out (81 balls).
Mitchell Johnson had conceded eight off the first two balls, four each off bat and pad, but his third delivery thudded into Kusal Perera's pads to trap him in front. When Kumar Sangakkara, the star of the victory against England four days ago, sliced Clint McKay to point, it was 20 for 2. But try as they might, Australia couldn't make further inroads.
Tillakaratne Dilshan didn't resemble the man whose breathtaking strokeplay lit up the World Twenty20 in 2009, but he and Thirimanne accumulated steadily to frustrate Bailey and his side. Thirimanne struck the occasional four, but it was very much a partnership in second gear, with 72 added in 19 overs.
Dilshan made 34 from 58 balls, and was dismissed when Watson took a superb low catch to his right at slip after Xavier Doherty had induced a false shot. Doherty got through his overs for just 30, suggesting that Sri Lanka's spinners would be a big factor later in the day.
Thirimanne's often-dour knock spanned 86 balls, and ended with his score on 57, when he hit Johnson to midwicket. Faulkner bowled Mathews for 12, but Jayawardene and Dinesh Chandimal, who added 65 in just 56 balls, dashed visions of a quick wrap. Jayawardene drove, glanced and deflected the ball cleverly, while Chandimal smacked a six over long-on during the course of a brisk 31.
A deliberate loft that bisected short third man and backward point highlighted Jayawardene's mastery, and despite the run-outs of Nuwan Kulasekara and Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka ended the innings knowing that the options in front of Australia would invariably play into their hands. So it proved.