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Sri Lanka improves on World Cup-winning side but still falls short

Sri Lanka improves on World Cup-winning side but still falls short

Sri Lanka had a stronger team than when it won the 1996 World Cup and played a brand of cricket as exciting as any at this year's tournament.
It was just too bad one-day cricket's best ever side was there to ruin its party.
Sri Lanka made it through to Saturday's World Cup final against Australia with a string of performances that showed just how well it had allied graft and pragmatism to the vibrant skills and big-hitting that took it to its only title 11 years ago.
Pace bowler Lasith Malinga terrorized batsmen throughout in an attack no longer reliant on spin, which was still more than ably represented by the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan.
And in the batting department, Mahela Jayawardene flourished in the captaincy and 37-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya showed that age was not always a barrier to brilliance.
It all amounted to a supporting role to Australia's unprecedented dominance.
Australia took a third straight title and ran its unbeaten streak at the competition to 29 games. It beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets in the Super 8s stage and, to prove it was no fluke, won a rain-affected final at Kensington Oval by 53 runs.
Sri Lanka had no answer to Adam Gilchrist's 104-ball 149. Jayasuriya top scored for his side with 63.
"They keep improving," Jayawardene said. "A lot of countries have competed well with Australia, but, when it comes to big events, they produce something extra."
Jayawardene, Jayasuriya, Muralitharan and Malinga were the stars of Sri Lanka's campaign, assisted by Chaminda Vaas and the stellar wicketkeeping of Kumar Sangakkara.
That was enough to get past the likes of New Zealand, West Indies and England, Against Australia, however, weaker players were exposed.
Malinga's unorthodox pace and accuracy troubled them. But, with the pitch failing to generate swing, Vaas was smashed around the ground and Dilhara Fernando was expensive once again.
Still, Sri Lanka got closer to challenging Australia than any of the other 15 teams at the Caribbean competition.
Jayawardene confirmed his credentials beyond all doubt as one of the leading top order batsmen in world cricket, smashing 548 runs at an average of 60.88. His unbeaten 115 off 109 balls in the semifinal against New Zealand was rated by many as the innings of the tournament.
The captain came into that game with his team shaking at 67-2 and paced his innings beautifully. He faced 48 balls before hitting his first boundary but accelerated with a series of jabs, cuts and flicks that often made their way to the rope.
One of the dominant openers of the past decade, Jayasuriya hit 467 runs and chipped in with seven vital wickets with his offspin.
His knock in the final could be the last of his one-day career, with him likely to head into a second and final retirement from the shorter form of the game.
His departure would leave a huge gap to fill and it may not be the only one Sri Lanka has to cope with.
The influence of coach Tom Moody was crucial and it remains to be seen how Sri Lanka will progress if he leaves to coach Western Australia as expected.
Moody, a World Cup winner with Australia in 1987 and 1999, introduced a ruthlessness and professionalism beyond that previously displayed by the team.
Jayawardene attributed his transformation from an inconsistent batsman into the second highest run scorer at the tournament to Moody and the team is still hoping he stays.
"The captaincy probably would have helped, but Tom definitely has pushed me to the limits," Jayawardene said. "He's not happy when I'm cruising. He's not happy with anyone cruising. He has pushed me a lot."
The team's new pragmatism was shown when, with Malinga recovering after an ankle ligament injury, it left out Muralitharan and Vaas in the Super 8s against Australia.
With a semifinal place already assured, Sri Lanka was able to rest its key bowlers and, as a bonus, deny Australia practice on how to read the pair's deliveries.
Sangakkara continued to show what can be done to expand upon the wicketkeeper's traditional role, bravely standing up to the wicket against pace bowling while pushing his reflexes to the limit.
His stumping of West Indies' great Brian Lara in the Super 8s off Vaas was so quick even the slow-mo replays seemed to pass in a blur.
With so much talent in the team, Sri Lanka is left trying to figure out what it needs to knock Australia's experienced players from their perch atop world cricket.
Sadly for them, the answer is as speculative as it is for everyone else.
"Probably get some of them to retire soon," Jayawardene said.


Updated : 2020-12-06 10:32 GMT+08:00