The Oval. Australia v Sri Lanka

Australia 334-7 Sri Lanka 247 all out (Cricket World Cup, 15th June 2019)

This was not my first trip to The Oval. I’d been here seven years previously, although that visit was for an Aussie Rules exhibition match. This time it was for cricket, a sport I’ve not attended since going to the opening day of a test match 33 years ago.

I can’t claim to be an avid cricket fan. I used to be very into the sport in the past, but the move of the game to Sky Sports, among other things, saw my interest wane almost terminally. Out of sight, out of mind.

A cricket World Cup though, in England, offered the change to see a bit a glamour and a full ground – not something I witnessed at England v New Zealand in 1986, and definitely not for the Aussie Rules friendly.

There was also an Australia connection this time round, with Australia being one of the two teams involved on this day. In fact Australia will be playing when I go to another game in two weeks. It’s not due to any draw to Australia. I won’t be going round slipping “G’Day” and “Knoath, mate” into my everyday conversation. It just happened that the only two weekend fixtures that were nearby, and had semi-reasonably priced tickets available, featured Australia.

I’d imagined Aussies would make up a large contingent of the crowd, but they were outnumbered by a huge margin by Sri Lankan fans, who were highly enthusiastic, but judging by the overheard comments, not hugely optimistic.

With no connection to either side, my concerns were more about the weather. It’s been abysmal for over a week, and the risk of the match, and my day, being partially ruined by rain, loomed large. The clouds overhead were several, if not quite fifty, shades of grey, and the odd spot of rain was slightly worry.

The skies quickly brightened though, with teases of blue sky poking through the growing gaps. The Australians, put in to bat first, also saw things brightening with a very strong start. The score was at 80 before the first wicket fell, and by the time opener Aaron Finch went for the third wicket, the score was already at 273. On his home ground, Finch equalled his highest score with 153, hitting 20 boundaries, five of them as sixes. It put Australia in a very strong position to press and take a few risks in the rest of their innings. They lost four more wickets, but added another 61 runs in the remaining seven overs to set Sri Lanka a target of 335 to win.

As a tip, I’d suggest that if you need food at The Oval, then unless you are one of the people playing, don’t try to get it during the lunch interval. The queues are horrendous, and the concourse areas very cramped in places. A one-day game lasts about 8 hours, so nipping out during the game isn’t quite so risky as in football. Nobody has ever walked out of a cricket match, cursing that when they went for a burger they missed the only run of the game – although you can miss stuff, as I’d find out later when I managed to miss two rapid wickets in a row.

Sri Lanka started their innings like men on a mission. They smacked 24 off the first two overs, and raced to 115 inside 16 overs before the first wicket fell. The large Sri Lankan contingent were thrilled, sensing a victory that had looked unlikely earlier.

Slowly though, the Australian bowlers tightened things up. The high run rate, well above what was required, slowly got forced down, until it started to fall behind. With 18 overs left, they were on 186-2, and still looked in with a decent shout, but then it started to unravel.

Opener Dimuth Karunaratne went for 97, and as he walked off, Sri Lanka’s belief seemed to walk off with him. Three wickets fell in just 8 balls in the 36th and 37th over, and with them now at 217-6, it would be asking an awful lot for Sri Lanka to chase down the total with so few wickets or experienced batsmen left. They’d lost two more by the end of the 40th over, and needing almost 100 to win, it was all over bar the shouting. Many Sri Lankans decided to head off early. Beating the rush seemingly more important than watching the beating.

Sri Lanka limped on, adding just 11 more runs in just under six overs before Nuwan Pradeep edged behind to end the innings, and the game. Australia moved to the top on the table, while Sri Lanka’s ship was sinking, even if their band, at the back of the stand behind me, noisily played on.

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