Sri Lanka has the momentum and belief in its favour against an injury-plagued Aussie side
Sri Lanka has played a brand of cricket that is fearless. Mahela Jayawardene's intrepid men have hustled the Australians with their aggression. The hunter is becoming the hunted.
Indeed, the Aussies have done the same to other teams on home turf in the past but this time around the boot seems to be on the other foot. All credit to Sri Lanka.
The islanders have the momentum and the belief in their favour going into the decisive third final of the Commonwealth Bank ODI tri-series at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday.
The Sri Lankans have won the last six of their eight ODIs against Australia down under. This is a formidable record that provides the islanders with the psychological edge.
Australia will enter the game without Michael Clarke. The Australian captain, much against the wishes of physio Alex Kountouri, took part in the second final here.
Clarke made a forceful century but ended up with hamstring strains on both legs. In trying to put more pressure on his left leg during Tuesday's game — the Aussie captain initially had a strained right hamstring — Clarke has aggravated the problem and is now a doubtful starter for the ODI series in the West Indies as well.
Shane Watson will lead the side and the big all-rounder will be under plenty of stress in a high stakes game. Can Watson lift this injury-hit Aussie side?
Pattinson also out
Fast bowler James Pattinson will also miss the game after picking up a glute strain in the second final. The Australian selectors have roped in batsman George Bailey and off-spinner Nathan Lyon for the contest.
While Bailey might play only in the event of in-form opener David Warner suffering a recurrence of a groin problem, Lyon could well come in for Pattinson in the eleven.
On an Adelaide pitch that is on the slower side, the Aussies could go in with two specialist pacemen in Brett Lee and Clint McKay with support from Watson and Daniel Christian. And Lyon could team up with left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty.
The Sri Lankans will be hoping for pace-bowling all-rounder Farveez Maharoof's back to hold. Jayawardene would also want his influential batting all-rounder Angelo Mathews to recover from his calf injury.
Already without the skiddy pace and the busy batting of Thisara Perera, the Sri Lankans have surmounted the odds to come together as a team. Jayawardene's captaincy has been high on intelligence and emotions. He has skippered the side with passion and the courage of conviction.
Jayawardene and Sri Lanka have also comprehended the dynamics of the new ODI rule changes — the use of two white balls, the need for all the Power Play overs to be completed by the end of the 40th over, and the restrictions on using a runner — better than most sides.
Jayawardene's ploy of getting Tillakaratne Dilshan to bowl his off-spinners with the new ball at the left-handed opening pair of Warner and Matthew Wade was spot on.
Lasith Malinga's bowling has been inconsistent but Jayawardene has goaded his key paceman to perform at crucial stages. Malinga's final spell on a flat track here on Tuesday was a red hot one. The pace spearhead has a slight groin strain but should be able to play the decider.
There was a belief that the pitch played slightly slower at the start and then eased out as the match progressed. But this could also be an illusion brought about by different styles of batting.
Tackling the pitch
The pitch, indeed, was a tad sluggish and working the ball around was not easy. The Aussies erred in their game-plan by adopting a safety first approach in the first 10 overs — only 39 runs were scored in the first batch of Power Play overs. Warner overplayed the role of a responsible batsman — his hundred consumed as many as 140 deliveries.
Compare this with the Sri Lankan onslaught in the first 10 overs — the side raced to 74 without loss. The Sri Lankan batsmen, rather than staying at the crease and pushing the ball around, stepped out to convert the length or used the depth of the crease for some vicious horizontal bat shots. In a deliberate ploy, they struck the ball a lot harder on this surface.
The Sri Lankan batsmen — Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara were exceptional — also comprehended the nature of the ground — short square boundaries and the long straight ones — and used it to their advantage. The brave and inventive Sri Lankans have been rewarded for their approach; the Aussies have bled in the Power Play overs.
The Sri Lankan catching needs to improve dramatically though. In a must-win game, lapses in the field could prove costly.
This has been a gruelling but wonderfully entertaining triangular series. The finale could be a fitting one.
The teams (from)
Australia: S. Watson (captain), D. Warner, M. Wade, P. Forrest, M. Hussey, D. Hussey, D. Christian, B. Lee, C. McKay, X. Doherty, N. Lyon, B. Hilfenhaus and G. Bailey.
Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene (captain), T. Dilshan, K. Sangakkara, D. Chandimal, L. Thirimanne, U. Tharanga, C. Kapugedera, F. Maharoof, N. Kulasekara, R. Herath, L. Malinga, A. Mathews, C. Welegedera and S. Senanayake.
Match starts at 8.50 a.m. IST