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Australia ride on Warner's maiden ton to draw first blood

Australia defeated Sri Lanka by 15 runs in the first of the best of three finals of the CB Series at the Gabba in Brisbane. Batting first, Australia posted a huge 321/6, attributed mainly to a maiden ton by David Warner who batted through the 50 overs for his 163, the sixth highest score by an Australian in ODIs.

Sri Lanka in reply, looked down and out at one stage before staging a brilliant recovery through big contributions by the tail before finally getting bowled out in the last over for 306.

Chasing a massive 322, Sri Lanka got off to a flyer as skipper Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan cut loose from the word go and went about the task, scoring at about 8 an over. But as it is inevitable in big chases, the Lankans, in pursuit of quick run soon started losing early wickets. Jayawardene was the first to go, when Brett Lee managed to find the outside edge of the Lankan skipper to sent him back for a run a ball 14. The veteran pacer was at it again when he managed to sneak one through and disturb the stumps to sent back the dangerous Dilshan for an entertaining 27 to leave Sri Lanka at 52/2.

Former skipper Kumar Sangakarra and Dinesh Chandimal then got together and looked to build some sort of partnership before launching a counter attack. But the pressure of the increasing required rate soon got to them as David Hussey struck with his first ball to sent back Chandimal (14). The youngster, looking to cut a short one, wasn’t able to handle the bounce and only managed to hit it straight to James Pattinson at point. Things went from bad to worse when Sangakarra mistimed a pull off Lee and failed to clear Shane Watson at mid off to depart for 42.

Australia, then found an unlikely source of wickets with part timer David Hussey picked up two more scalps, Lahiru Thirimanne(14) and  Fervez Maharoof (8) in quick succession. With Sri Lanka on 144/6 at that stage, the game was as good as over.

But Nuwan Kulasekara, in company of the recalled Upul Tharanga showed tremendous courage and led a superb fightback to bring their team right back into the contest. Things turned around dramatically in the batting powerplay, in which the duo blasted 68 runs without being separated. Kulasekara was the more aggressive of the two as he often moved away and created room for himself before heaving the ball over the infield to telling effect. Tharanga, playing second fiddle, too provided him good support, as Pattinson and Hilfenhaus bore the burnt of the unexpected fireworks.

The 104 run stand off just 69 balls finally came to an end when Kulasekara hit straight to Xavier Doherty at extra cover to give Hussey his fourth wicket. The entertaining knock of 73 comprised of seven boundaries and three sixes. With a slight drizzle around, Watson then has Tharanga (60) and Rangana Herath (5) caught in the deep to put further brakes on the Sri Lankan advances. Dhamikka Prasad (31 n.o) coming in at number 9, struck a few meaty blows to take the score past 300 but the fight finally ended when Malinga failed to clear Micheal Hussey at deep midwicket to become Watson’s third victim.

Earlier in the day, Michael Clarke, back in the side in place of Peter Forrest, won the toss and had no hesitation to bat first on a wicket which looked full of runs. The Australian openers, David Warner and Mathew Wade, then completely justified their captain’s decision by building a solid platform as they put on 136 runs for the opening wicket in 24 overs. Wade was the aggressor early on and was particularly severe on Lasith Malinga, who went for 28 in his opening spell of three overs.

Warner’s form had been an issue for the hosts in the series so far but he curbed his natural instincts settle down before exploding after bringing up his fifty. The Lankans soon got their first wicket during the bowling powerplay when Wade was caught brilliantly at the long on boundary by Herath to depart for a well made 64.

Shane Watson, coming  in at number three, joined Warner in the middle and the duo consolidated the innings nicely with a 50 run stand. With spin being deployed at both ends, the pair refrained from taking undue risks until a slower one from Maharoof took the leading edge from Watson to dismiss him for 21. Warner, on the other hand, made sure his hard work doesn’t go in vain as an under-edge to the third-man boundary brought up his maiden ton in ODIs.

Sri Lanka tried to pull things back, taking wickets of Daniel Christian (10) and David Hussey (1) in quick succession but with Warner going strong, the odds were stacked heavily against them. The New South Wales dynamite, unperturbed by wickets at the other end or the two rain delayis s, continued to pile on the runs, soon going past the 150 mark.  Veterans Michael Clarke (37 off 25 balls) and Michael Hussey (19 n.o off 10 balls) came lower down the order and played handy cameos towards the end of the innings as the Aussies plundered 91 runs in the final 10 overs to motor past 300. Warner, whose 163 was studded with 13 hits to the fence and two over it,was eventually dismissed in the last ball of the innings as Dhammika Prasad finally found a way to go past his broad bat and rattle the stumps but by then Australia had already posted an imposing 321/6.

Australian batting, especially the top order, looked much improved today but their bowling left a lot to be desired. While they iron out their shortcomings, Sri Lanka would like to draw positives from this game and believe they can give take the fight to the hosts as both teams now move to Adelaide for the second final on tuesday.

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