With Australia on 173 for nine chasing 222 to victory, it looked all over, but Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken added 35 runs for the last wicket in 52 balls and took Australia ever so close. The hosts needed 13 runs off 12 balls and iceman Sanath Jayasuriya playing his last game here in Australia was called on to bowl the penultimate over and he struck in his very first ball when Brett Lee dragged one on to his stumps trying to pull the left-arm spinner.
That started off celebrations in the stand and on the field. The Sri Lankans were scheduled to catch a mid night flight back to Colombo and the result certainly would have made it a happy journey back to Sri Lanka after what had been a horrendous tour here in Australia.
Prior to yesterday’s game, the Sri Lankans had looked out of sorts having won just one of their seven games and with criticism mounting; they came up with a spirited display defending their modest total of 221 under lights in front of 22,500 fans.
A terrific diving catch by Lasith Malinga at long-off to dismiss Adam Gilchrist had turned the momentum towards the Sri Lankans and they did well to maintain the pressure, despite a few hiccups in the field and Australia crumbled.
After Gilchrist and James Hopes had added 107 runs in just 88 balls, it looked as if the tourists were heading for another massive defeat, but excellent bowling by the seamers backed up by the part-timers helped them to bounce back.
Gilchrist, playing his last game at the MCG and against the Sri Lankans provided the usual entertainment reaching his half-century in just 35 balls. Mahela Jayawardene gambled by introducing Muttiah Muralitharan for the second Power Play immediately after the mandatory Power Play and although the off-spinner went for a few runs, he provided the breakthrough by dismissing James Hopes for 28. Earlier, Muralitharan had a confident leg before shout against Gilchrist turned down with the batsman on 34.
After a referral to the third umpire, Hopes was ruled out bowled by Muralitharan and that paved way for a dramatic Australian collapse as the hosts lost five wickets in the space of eight runs. From 107 for none, Australia were reduced to 115 for five and then 123 for six.
Gilchrist was on a rampage having hit 12 fours and two sixes and he hoisted Kulasekara and Malinga at long-off dived to his left and took a remarkable catch. Gilchrist made 83 in 50 balls and was named Man of the Match.
Then the pillars of Australian batting line up, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds all departed with the total on 115. Clarke and Symonds were dismissed without scoring while Ponting managed just one.
Clarke was cleaned up by Amarasinghe while Symonds was caught down the leg-side off the same bowler and Ponting was adjudged leg before wicket to Kulasekara.
Then Malinga came on and trapped Brad Haddin leg before wicket with a yorker while part-timer Chamara Kapugedara had the dangerous Michael Hussey caught in the crease trying to defend and bowled him.
Brad Hogg’s stubborn resistance was ended when Murali had him leg before wicket and the tail wagged, with Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken fighting it out, but eventually Sri Lanka bowled out the Australians with 11 balls to spare.
With the bat, the Sri Lankan middle order that had looked so fragile, finally hit form and gave the bowlers something do defend. They lost four wickets with just 61 runs on the board and half-centuries by Jayawardene (50) and Tillekeratne Dilshan (62) helped them to 221.
Jayawardene brought Sri Lanka back into contention adding 64 runs in 74 balls for the fifth wicket with Dilshan and then Dilshan and Chamara Silva (35) added a further 60 runs in 74 balls.
Silva showed a glimpse of what he’s capable and it reminded everyone of his form during the World Cup last year and he was dismissed trying to accelerate the run rate.
Nathan Bracken was the pick of the bowlers for the Australians picking up four for 29 in ten overs. His first spell of eight overs was much disciplined and cost the Australians just eight runs and he picked up danger man Sanath Jayasuriya.
Jaysuriya made his international debut at this same ground 19 years ago on the Boxing Day and he ended his career scoring 23 runs, but more than that, his final breakthrough to win the game for his team will be remembered for a long time.