Australia barely managed to beat Sri Lanka by 15 runs in an exciting 1st Final at the Gabba in Brisbane. Sri Lanka chasing 322 to win were out of the match at 144 for 6 in the 31st over but out of nowhere sprung back to life through some lusty hitting from Nuwan Kulasekara and the solidity of Upul Tharanga to challenge the Aussies. Fortunately for the hosts, the Sri Lankan lower order picked the fielders with their big shots to go down fighting.
It was a flying start initially for the Lankans through Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. The opening pair smashed 39 runs inside 5 overs before Brett Lee got his act right to force Mahela Jayawardene (14) to edge him off the backfoot to the Wicket Keeper Matthew Wade. By the end of the 7th over, the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan (27 from 22 balls with 5 fours) got bowled right through the gate by a pacy inswinger from Brett Lee. Sri Lanka got a start of 52 runs in just 7 overs but had lost two of its biggest players.
Kumar Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal looked promising to keep the momentum going for the visitors. However, the introduction of David Hussey in the 17th over provided instant results as Dinesh Chandimal (14) top edged his square cut off a rank wide delivery to backward point because of the extra bounce. At this stage, Michael Clarke cleverly used his spin combination of Xavier Doherty and David Hussey to quickly complete the 20 overs because of the threatening weather conditions. When Kumar Sangakkara (42 from 49 balls with 4 fours) perished lofting Brett Lee needlessly towards long off and miscuing it, the hopes of the Lankans really dashed with SL at 115 for 4 in the 22nd over.
Australia chipped away with two more wickets getting rid of Lahiru Thirmanne (stepping out and edging a cover drive off a turning ball from David Hussey to the Keeper) and Farveez Maharoof (flicking David Hussey to mid wicket) to leave Lanka in tatters at 144 for 6 in 26.1 overs.
The match was expecting to be soon over but Nuwan Kulasekara seemed to have other ideas. Upul Tharanga coming in at no.6 at his end was just scratching around and determined not to lose his wicket cheaply. The two players combined beautifully to frustrate the Australians who also struggled to grip the wet ball. Kulasekara batted freely to come up with clean hits to entertain everybody. The partnership wasn’t too serious to be worried off for the Aussies but it just dragged on and eventually threatened to bring Sri Lanka back in the match out of nowhere!
Finally in the 42nd over after conceding 104 runs, Australia broke the 7th wicket stand when Nuwan Kulasekara drove David Hussey in the air and straight to covers. Kulasekara came up with a career best of 73 from just 43 balls with 7 fours and 3 sixes! This was only the 2nd ODI fifty for the 29-year-old Kulasekara who got there taking just 33 balls.
The match was steadily heading towards Sri Lanka’s direction as Upul Tharanga batting sensibly added 37 runs with the capable Dhammika Prasad! In the 46th over, Australia got the crucial wicket of Tharanga (60 from 67 balls with 3 fours) when the left hander heaved Shane Watson into the hands of long on. Sri Lanka at 285 for 8 in 45.5 overs needed 37 runs to win from 25 balls! Dhammika Prasad slashed Brett Lee over covers for a six to keep the hopes alive for Sri Lanka!
Again Australia came back to breathe easy when the left-handed Rangana Herath (5) executed a full blooded heave off Shane Watson but only to get caught at deep wide mid wicket with 21 runs to win from 14 balls left. Sri Lanka in the final over needed 16 runs to win off Shane Watson who proved to be a lucky charm for the hosts. Despite bowling a length ball, Watson was lucky that last man Lasith Malinga (1) could only swing him into the hands of deep mid wicket to settle things for the hosts. Dhammika Prasad was left stranded at the other end on a valiant 31* (from just 21 balls with 2 fours and a six).
Sri Lanka got bowled out for 306 in 49.2 overs to go down by just 15 runs. For the Aussies, David Hussey (8-0-43-4) and Shane Watson (9.2-0-33-3) came to the rescue taking crucial wickets. Brett Lee took three wickets too but was expensive in the last stages of the match. David Warner, who scored a blistering 163 in the first half got the Man of the Match award. The two teams head towards the Adelaide Oval for the second final which will be played on the 4th. It would be a must-win game for Sri Lanka having lost the first of the best of the three finals today. (Also read : David Warner brilliant 163 carries Australia to 321 in First Final!)