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Aussies on the mat

It's the latest version of cricket - the 20 overs per side games or Twenty20 as they call it that is in full swing in England.

Overshadowing 'time killing' established game of Test cricket and the subsequent 50 overs per side One Day Internationals, the Twenty20 cricket has come a long way to attract a new set of fans and followers who were not associated with cricket before.

What a game it was as Sri Lanka renewed its cricketing rivalry against Australia. Customary, Sri Lanka is the nation which Australia always wanted to beat in the international arena.

Ever since Arjuna Ranatunga's mighty Sri Lanka team crushed Australia by seven wickets in the 1996 World Cup final in Lahore, the team from Down Under was always after Sri Lanka to regain cricketing supremacy.

In fact, the cricketing rivalry against Australia began in 1995 when Sri Lanka's spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan was 'called' by Darrell Hair in that infamous Boxing Day Test. But in Trent Bridge on Monday, Kumar Sangakkara's men opened another chapter in Sri Lanka's track record against Australia.

Sri Lanka not only beat Australia in style but also eliminated them from the Twenty20 World Cup tournament now in progress in England. Australia, the reigning ICC ODI World Champions ate humble pie as Sri Lanka thrashed them by six wickets.

Chasing a target of 160 with an asking rate of exactly eight runs per over, Sri Lanka were given a blistering start by Tillakaratne Dilshan who invented fireworks from his willow to muster 53 off 32 balls. He was in total control of the Aussie attack as he blasted Australian bowlers to all corners of the ground.

Skipper Kumar Sangakkara joined the run chase with a magnificent half century as Sri Lanka demolished even the last hope Australia have had of making it to the Super Eight second round. More importantly, Twenty20 World 'crown' was the only major title that was missing from Australia's ever growing collection of trophies but Sri Lanka made sure the Aussies wait until the next tournament to rethink of the elusive title.

What a pathetic story it was for Australia which came to the tournament with high hopes. But their dreams lasted for just three days and back to back defeats eliminated them from the second round.

Although Sri Lanka were stretched until the last ball of the penultimate over, Sangakkara's men were always in the game - especially after those bubbling half centuries by the captain Sangakkara and Dilshan. The early exit of experienced master blaster Sanath Jayasuriya was compensated by that aggressive innings by Dilshan who made merry against the Australian attack.

Even then, Sri Lanka had to survive some anxious moments at the end with Brett Lee looking dangerous at one stage, removing Chamara Silva and following it up with three dot balls. Then there was that cameo innings from Jehan Mubarak.

Australia, taking the first lease, were not at their brilliant best as they slumped to 94 for 6 with only five overs to go. But they wagged their tail strongly to raise 65 runs off the last five overs.

It was heartening to see playmaker Lasith Malinga returning to international arena with a bang. He bagged three fine wickets to apply breaks to the Australian run chase. Ajantha Mendis added salt to Australia's wounds with another three wickets.

It was a bitter experience for Australia who will now have to wait for another fortnight until they begin their Ashes series with England. Australia, having lost their opening game to the West Indies by seven wickets, knew that they had to win the crunch game against Sri Lanka.

The pressure was on the Aussies and they could set even a lower target than they set for the West Indies. Though they scored 169 for 7 against the West Indies, they fell ten runs short of that in scoring 159 for 9 against Sri Lanka.

The real test for Sri Lanka will be on tomorrow when they meet Pakistan in their Super Eight match at Lord's. Despite losing to England, Pakistan has been shaping well in the tournament and will pose a big challenge to Sri Lanka.

Twenty20 cricket is a different ball game altogether and more shocks could be predicted in the coming days. The tournament got underway with a bang with hosts England losing to the Netherlands by four wickets in the curtain raiser. Bangladesh lost to Ireland by six wickets.

Hence, more surprises could come as the tournament reaches its final lap. The customary strengths and big names will not be that important in Twenty20 cricket and it all depends only on how a team performs on a particular game. Unlike the tested ODIs where you get 50 overs to recover, the shortest version of cricket has little room to rectify mistakes.

Hence, the big names are finding it hard to handle tense situations. It is like a sprint event in athletics where a competitor hardly gets a chance to recover after a late start. Similarly, Twenty20 cricket too leaves virtually little or no room for a team to recover after a bad start.

It all depends on how your batsmen perform on a particular day and to which extent the bowers could contain the opposing batsmen. It is not an easy task and the game could change in a couple of overs. Under the circumstances, anything could happen in Twenty20 cricket and the team which gets the perfect start could always be in the game. It is altogether a new experience for players and even the experienced cricketers are finding it tough to maintain their reputations.

Nevertheless, Twenty20 cricket has undoubtedly opened a new chapter in world sport, attracting a new segment of spectators and followers to keep the game alive.


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