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Australia Beaten And Bemused

By on June 9, 2009

icc world twenty20 Ricky Ponting

It started with a third-ball duck and ended in a leg-side wide. Those were the events that bookended Australia’s lamentable three-day ICC World Twenty20 campaign, and symbolised the struggles encountered by Ricky Ponting’s men in comprehensive defeats to West Indies and Sri Lanka.

Australia on Monday suffered the ignominy of becoming the third team after Scotland and Bangladesh to be dumped from the pool stages of the tournament, while the likes of the Netherlands and Ireland remain. Theirs was a campaign rocked by the expulsion of Andrew Symonds, blighted by indisciplined bowling (24 extras in 34.3 overs) and ultimately thwarted by the orthodoxy of their batsmen in a format that rewards power and creativity.

In many ways, the result was not surprising. Ponting’s side had lost three consecutive Twenty20 matches entering the tournament, and were cast into by far the most difficult group around. But this is Australia – a team bearing the same colours, if not cast, to that which vanquished all before it in the preceding decade – and the expectation shouldered by their world-beating forebears is now a burden for a new generation to carry.

Few outside its own borders will mourn Australia’s early exit. Indeed, the image of jubilant Sri Lankans dancing and singing down Bridgford Road, which runs adjacent to Trent Bridge, was no doubt replicated in bars and living rooms the world over by fans still scarred from Australia’s era of dominance. But even the most calloused of hearts felt a twinge of sympathy for Ponting at the post-match press conference, where his utter despondency and frustration was eerily similar to the demeanour he sported the last time he fronted the cameras in Nottingham – following a series-deciding Ashes defeat four years ago.

“I’d like to be able to tell you I knew what was going on,” he said. “That’s five international Twenty20 games we’ve lost in a row. That’s a bit of a worrying trend for our team and our group. I couldn’t have been happier with what we’ve done leading into the tournament, everything was spot on. But when the big moments have come along we’ve just stumbled.

“The group we’re in, with the West Indies and Sri Lanka, we knew that they were two very dangerous sides and if we made mistakes they’d make us pay. That’s certainly the way it’s turned out. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that we’re not through to the next stage, for the reason that I can’t really understand why. Everything was going along so nicely for us and now we find ourselves out of the tournament altogether. That’s it.”

In the aftermath of Australia’s seven-wicket walloping at the hands of the West Indies on Saturday, Ponting stressed the importance of positive first overs. So when David Warner steered Angelo Mathews’ third offering of the afternoon into the sure hands of Tillakaratne Dilshan at point – the lowlight of an over in which the Australians managed a solitary run – the captain’s exasperation must have been palpable.

Ponting channelled some of that frustration towards Lasith Malinga, whom he glanced and pummelled for three consecutive boundaries in the fourth over. But the red mist would eventually prove his undoing. Charging a faster, flatter delivery from Ajantha Mendis, Ponting’s anger turned to despair as the ball cannoned into his leg stump, taking with it much of the momentum he had built during his short, sharp innings of 25 from 15 deliveries.

Thereafter, the innings largely belonged to Mendis. Playing his first match against Australia in any form of the game, Sri Lanka’s modern-day Johnny Gleeson completely befuddled Michael Clarke and the brothers Hussey en route to the sparkling figures of 3 for 20 from four overs.

Mendis’ strength lay in his aerial mastery, more so than his lateral movement off the pitch, as evidenced by his bowling of Ponting and trapping of Shane Watson (22 off 21) and Michael Hussey (one off five) leg-before. The orthodoxy of Hussey and Clarke (11 off 15) proved no match for the unique trajectories and bustling pace of Mendis, and created a hole from which the Australians would always struggle to emerge.

Mendis’ union with Muralitharan was largely responsible for Australia’s torpid tally of 40 for 4 between the fifth and 14th overs, and created a pressurised atmosphere which Malinga and Isuru Udana would later capitalise on. Both quicks used deft changes of pace to deny the Australian batsmen any sense of rhythm, and if not for Mitchell Johnson’s rearguard 28 not out off 13 balls – in which he took 19 of the 21 runs to come from Muralitharan’s final over – Ponting’s men may have been in for another Windies-style humiliation.

As it was, the Australians were restricted to a total of 159 for 9 – ten runs shy of the total the West Indians devoured on Saturday – and victory never seemed likely; particularly after Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara pounded 11 boundaries in Sri Lanka’s first 50 runs of the innings.

The ten players chosen in Australia’s Twenty20 and Ashes squads will now be subjected to the galling experience of remaining in England while the World Twenty20 plays out around them. Their immediate plans involve an extended stay in Leicester, and an attempt to ensure the bitter disappointment of their three-day World Twenty20 campaign doesn’t metastasise into a problem that corrupts their Ashes campaign.

“Next week I don’t think there’ll be too much freshening up,” Ponting said. “I reckon we might get flogged a bit by the coach next week. We need to talk about it and we need to address some of the issues and some of the areas where we’ve been so deficient in the last couple of games. We need to talk about that tonight and get that done because some of the guys will be out of here soon.

“When the specialist Twenty20 players do leave then we do have a real focus on just cricket. There will be nothing else to think about, nothing else to talk about. That will be my job, to make sure we get over this loss pretty quickly and start focussing on the red balls and the white clothing for the next few months.”

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

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