Sri Lanka’s openers gone cheaply. A recovery led by Kusal Mendis. A Sri Lankan attack heavy on spin options. Australia’s batsmen struggling to have any impact. A Sri Lankan victory. Steven Smith could be forgiven for feeling like this was a flashback to the Test series just ended. But the big difference was that Australia already have a win in this one-day series. At the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka merely levelled it 1-1 with three to play.
It was a victory built on two big partnerships: a 125-run stand between Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal, and a 103-run effort from Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera. Chandimal was the only one of the quartet who did not reach fifty, falling instead on 48 and thus missing the chance to become the first Sri Lankan to score six consecutive ODI half-centuries. Besides those two stands, Sri Lanka’s wickets fell rapidly in three clumps.
The last of those clumps featured a momentous event – James Faulkner became the sixth Australian to take a hat-trick in an ODI. But by that late stage in the innings the damage had been done. Sri Lanka had done enough to set Australia a target of 289. No team had ever won an ODI at this ground chasing such a hefty total and on a pitch offering plenty of turn Australia could not rewrite history, despite Matthew Wade’s career-best innings.
One key difference from the Test series was that Sri Lanka opened with seamers from both ends – curious given that Nathan Lyon had taken the new ball for Australia earlier in the day – and the move brought immediate success. Thisara Perera’s first ball drew David Warner into a drive that was edged behind, and in his next over Perera had Aaron Finch dragging one on. Australia were 16 for 2, hardly the kind of start required for this chase.
Sri Lanka had recovered from a similar position, but forcing the scoring rate against Sri Lanka’s spin attack was never going to be easy for Australia. Left-arm spinner Amila Aponso in particular proved difficult to get away, and the pressure that he applied brought him the wickets of Smith and George Bailey. On 30, Smith advanced and drove a catch to mid-on. Bailey was much less fluent, his 27 taking 46 balls, and he did not manage a single boundary before being bowled, deceived by Aponso’s dip.
Bailey was not the only Australian to labour at the crease. Moises Henriques took 16 balls to make 4 and was out when he lunged forward and was beaten by legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna’s turn and Chandimal’s quick stumping – a similar dismissal to the first innings in the Colombo Test, when Henriques dragged his back foot out of his ground. Supposedly a good player of spin, Henriques must find another method, for drag is proving as costly to him as it does an Olympic swimmer.
Wade and Travis Head did their best to claw Australia back into the match, but clawing rarely achieves much but to delay the inevitable. Sri Lanka’s spinners were too hard to dominate, and the required rate ballooned. Wade reached 76, his highest ODI score, but did so with only three boundaries, and by the timed he holed out to Thisara Perera, Australia needed more than 10 an over.
Head top-edged a catch off Mathews for 31 from 48, Mitchell Starc popped a return catch back to Mathews, and then Aponso finished off the game with the wickets of Adam Zampa and Faulkner, to end up with the outstanding figures of 4 for 18 off 9.2 overs. Sri Lanka had won by 82 runs.
For the first few overs of the day it looked like Australia’s hopes of taking a 2-0 series lead were strong. After Mathews chose to bat, Sri Lanka stumbled to 12 for 2. Danushka Gunathilaka, brought in for this match at the expense of Milinda Siriwardana, was bowled by Starc for 2, and next ball Tillakarante Dilshan was bowled behind his legs by Lyon, operating around the wicket.
But Mendis and Chandimal were up to the task of rebuilding, rotating the strike and putting away boundaries off bad balls. And they got a few of those. Smith’s decision to use the part-time offspin of Head inside the first 10 overs backfired spectacularly when Mendis plundered 20 runs off his first over. Head’s four overs cost 41 and combined with Henriques’ 0 for 40 off five, offset much of the good work of Zampa, Starc and Faulkner, who each took three wickets.
Chandimal was the victim of a remarkable review off the bowling of Zampa. Chandimal advanced and tried to work Zampa to leg, missed, and the ball cannoned into the wicketkeeper Wade’s midriff. When Wade recovered, he appealed for lbw and convinced Smith to ask for a review. Replays confirmed the ball had struck Chandimal’s pad on the way through, in line, and would have hit the stumps.
Zampa added the key wicket of Mendis to his tally in his next over. Mendis, who had scored all around the ground for his run-a-ball 69, was done by Zampa’s googly, trapped lbw, so plumb he did not seriously consider asking for a review. Zampa’s third came when Dhananjaya de Silva drove a catch to short cover, and he finished with 3 for 42 from his 10 overs.
But then came the second of Sri Lanka’s crucial – or is that Kusal? – partnerships. Kusal Perera and Mathews came together with the score at 158 for 5 and both men combined attacking strokeplay with the ability to find the gaps for ones and twos. Mathews launched a pair of sixes off Lyon in the 40th over and his fifty came up off 55 balls; Perera struck five fours and one six, and brought up his half-century from 47 deliveries.
However, they became the first two victims of Faulkner’s hat-trick: on 54 Perera was lbw trying a reverse sweep from the last ball of the 46th over, and first ball of the next over Mathews, on 57, drilled a catch down the ground. Completing the feat, Faulkner had Thisara Perera bowled. But by then, the damage had been done. Starc finished off the tail in the 49th over.
Sri Lanka’s wickets had fallen in clusters – 2 for 12 at the top, 3 for 21 in the middle, 5 for 27 at the end. But those collapses were offset by two century stands, and those two partnerships were the difference in the match. (Courtesy Cricinfo)