Quick-Fire Aussies in the Semis

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Byline: DAVID LLOYD

DAVID LLOYD AT CENTURION PARK REUTERS

AUSTRALIA produced a dynamic all-round performance here today to crush Sri Lanka and clinch a World Cup semi-final spot two matches ahead of schedule.

Skipper Ricky Ponting made a wonderful century after vice-captain Adam Gilchrist had missed one of his own by the narrowest of margins. Then Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath combined to snuff out any possibility of a challenging reply.

Having made a mighty 319 for five, Australia reduced Sri Lanka to 48 for four - and sent star batsman Sanath Jayasuriya to hospital with a chipped thumb and a badly bruised forearm before throttling back.

Even so, they still triumphed by 96 runs, duly recorded a 13th straight oneday victory, began the 'Super Six' second stage in emphatic fashion and suggested that their mission to beat every opponent in this tournament is anything but impossible.

Sri Lanka, who reached 223 thanks to an entertaining 92 from Aravinda de Silva, may still reach the semi-finals themselves. A win against either India or Zimbabwe should do the trick.

But they never remotely threatened to unsettle Australia here.

Gilchrist set today's tone by roaring to 99 from 88 balls - only to finish nine inches short of safety when Chaminda Vaas's direct hit from near the midwicket boundary beat his attempt to complete a second run for Ponting.

The captain, though, was not to be short-changed. Man of the match Ponting soared to 114 from 109 deliveries before miscuing a hook in the final stages of an innings that at one point was on course to top 330.

The underdogs had been up against it all day. Vaas, their usually dangerous swing bowler, conceded 35 runs from his first five overs as the new ball refused to deviate for him. Consequently, only Muttiah Muralitharan had to be handled with care.

Sri Lanka's champion spinner had Matthew Hayden caught at silly point off bat and pad during his second over, having been introduced early in an attempt to check Australia's progress. …