The World champion posts its 20th straight victory in the competition
ST. GEORGE'S (Grenada): Australia cruised to a seven-wicket win over an under strength Sri Lanka team on Monday in what could be a rehearsal for the World Cup final.
With Lasith Malinga out injured and Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan rested for the Super Eight match, Sri Lanka's second-string attack struggled to contain the Australian batsmen at the Grenada National Stadium.
Captain Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds shared an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 106 to take Australia to 232 for three with more than seven overs left after it had bowled out Sri Lanka for 226.
Finishing it off in style
Ponting finished the match with a six for 66 not out and Symonds scored an unbeaten 63 to seal a routine win over one of the teams best-equipped to stop Australia winning a third straight World Cup.
``We've played some really good cricket right through the tournament,'' Ponting said. ``I thought our new ball bowling was outstanding. (Nathan) Bracken (four for 19) was brilliant and took early wickets for us. ``Our batting was again very good. We got off to another good start and gave a platform for the rest of the guys to chip in around it. All is coming together well.''
Australia's 20th straight victory in the competition going back to the 1999 final was almost meaningless in terms of the championship because both teams had already qualified for the semifinals.
If Sri Lanka beats Ireland as expected in its final Super Eight game on Wednesday, it is sure to qualify in second or third place and avoid Australia in the semifinals.
Could meet in the final
The teams could meet in the final, as they did in 1996, so Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody left out Muralitharan and Vaas in an apparent attempt to deny Australia familiarity with its attack.
``We have been playing very good cricket but we have personnel that we use on and off,'' Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said in reference to the changes.
Jayawardene hit 72 after his side had slumped to 27 for three under the bowling of Bracken and Glenn McGrath. He rebuilt the innings alongside Chamara Silva, who struck 64 in a fourth-wicket stand of 140.
It was Jayawardene's 38th one-day half century and seemed to have rallied the team before the five wickets fell for 17 runs to make it 184 for eight.
Australia fielded its strongest available line-up and, after being asked to bowl, tore through Sri Lanka's top order.
The wayward Shaun Tait went for 18 off his first two overs but Bracken got rid of dangerman Sanath Jayasuriya leg-before-wicket for 12 midway through the fifth over. Kumar Sangakkara followed lbw to McGrath in the next over.
Silva and Jayawardene dug in and made steady, unspectacular progress. Silva brought up his 50 off Tait's next over but the partnership was broken when he top-edged Brad Hogg to Michael Clarke.
A collapse followed, Jayawardene's 88-ball innings ending when he was stumped off Hogg by Adam Gilchrist.
Tait accounted for Tillekeratne Dilshan (seven) and Russel Arnold (three) in successive overs and Bracken had Nuwan Kulasekara caught at slip by Hayden.
But Muralitharan's replacement, Malinga Bandara, hit two huge sixes to carry Sri Lanka past 200 before falling to McGrath for 17 off 19 balls. AP
Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga c Haydenb Bracken 6, S. Jayasuriyalbw b Bracken 12, K. Sangakkaralbw b McGrath 0, M. Jayawardenest. Gilchrist b Hogg 72, C. Silva cClarke b Hogg 64, T. Dilshan cHodge b Tait 7, R. Arnold b Tait 3,F. Maharoof c Symonds b Bracken25, N. Kulasekara c Hayden bBracken 1, M. Bandara c Hogg bMcGrath 17, D. Fernando (notout) 0; Extras (lb-5, w-11, nb-3)19; Total (in 49.4 overs) 226.
Fall of wickets: 1-26, 2-27, 3-27, 4-167, 5-174, 6-178, 7-183,8-184, 9-218.
Australia bowling: Bracken9.4-3-19-4, Tait 10-0-68-2,McGrath 9-1-48-2, Hogg 10-0-35-2, Symonds 3-0-15-0, Clarke8-0-36-0.
Australia: A. Gilchrist lbw b Arnold30, M. Hayden c Dilshan bArnold 41, R. Ponting (not out) 66,M. Clarke c Dilshan b Bandara 23,A. Symonds (not out) 63; Extras(w-4, nb-5) 9; Total (for three wkts.in 42.4 overs) 232.
Fall of wickets: 1-76, 2-79,3-126.
Sri Lanka bowling: Fernando6-1-36-0, Maharoof 7-0-52-0, Kulasekara4-0-20-0, Arnold 4-0-20-2, Bandara 9.4-0-53-1, Jayasuriya6-0-32-0, Dilshan 6-0-19-0.