Finch helps Aussies beat Sri Lanka in thriller

One of the major questions surrounding Australia’s XI for the ICC Champions Trophy has been emphatically answered after Aaron Finch blazed a superb century against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Friday. In the first of Australia’s two warm-up matches ahead of their tournament opener against New Zealand in a week, Finch hammered an eye-catching 137 from 109 balls as he and Travis Head (85 not out) helped Australia chase down an imposing target of 319 with two balls to spare. Finch had been the front-runner to partner David Warner for the match against the Black Caps and his performance in south London has left little doubt as to who will open the batting at Edgbaston.

While Finch’s century was a welcome boost for the Aussies, the fact they conceded 318 from 50 overs was hardly ideal, even on a batting-friendly surface, although they did so without strike bowler Mitchell Starc and experienced paceman John Hastings, who were both rested along with skipper Steve Smith. Finch’s century took just 76 balls and featured nine fours and five sixes, including a brilliant lofted drive over long-off to bring up three figures. He was eventually dismissed from the first ball of the 36th over having struck 11 fours and six sixes. At the home ground of English county side Surrey, who the right-hander will represent again this year having played in the T20 Blast and four-day competition for them last summer, Finch was the standout batsman on a day when 637 runs were scored.

The match was not an official one-day international, allowing both sides to field more than 11 players and meaning – unfortunately for Finch – the statistics won’t count towards official player records. Australia fielded 12 players (Josh Hazlewood bowled but was not listed to bat) and the match featured a significantly shorter boundary towards the Peter May Stand, with the pitches in the centre of the historic venue seemingly reserved for the tournament proper. Angelo Mathews was the standout batsman for Sri Lanka, compiling a patient 95 after they had slumped to 4-92, before Asela Gunaratne (70no from 56 balls) and Seekkuge Prasanna (31 from 19) exploded late on as they powered their way to 7-318. Australia had fallen to 6-243 with 10 overs remaining but Head, who had scored a century as an opener on Australia Day when Finch had been dropped, seemingly sealed his shift back to the middle-order with a classy and composed innings of 85no from 73 balls, featuring seven fours, as victory was achieved in the final over with two wickets in hand.

The turning point of the chase was the 46th over when Nuwan Pradeep conceded 16 runs, including two consecutive no-balls, to see Australia’s required run rate drop from a tricky 8.80 an over to a manageable 6.32. Queenslander Chris Lynn, one of Finch’s main rivals for the opening role, batted at No.3 and was uncharacteristically circumspect in his innings, at least for the first 20 deliveries. The right-hander nursed just six singles in that time before he casually launched the first ball of the 18th over from Prasanna for six and then sent the third delivery into the second tier of the members’ pavilion. But from the first ball of the next over, Lynn inexplicably hammered a waist-high full toss from Lakshan Sandakan straight to Kusal Mendis at deep midwicket, a mishit that could have been worth six on a smaller venue but was nowhere near long enough when hitting towards the long boundary. On the bowling front, James Pattinson’s hopes of an ODI recall copped a blow when he leaked 14 boundaries and conceded 80 runs from his 10 overs, the only real high point coming when he sent the leg stump of Mendis flying for 17.

While Pattinson was expensive in his opening spell and through the middle of the innings, it was Hazlewood (1-69) and the hitherto impressive Patrick Cummins (1-47) who were punished late on as Sri Lanka hammered 61 runs from the final five overs. Hazlewood was hit for 23 from the penultimate over having got the initial breakthrough of Upul Tharanga in the seventh over of the morning as Gunaratne, the hero of Sri Lanka’s T20 series triumph in February, punished Australia’s bowling once again. Australia’s surprise bowling hero was Moises Henriques, the allrounder taking three wickets having struggled with the ball for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the recent Indian Premier League. The 30-year-old, whose output as a bowler at domestic level has stalled in recent years due to a string of injuries, bowled intelligently by changing his pace to finish with 3-46 in a timely reminder of his ability to selector-on-duty Trevor Hohns and coach Darren Lehmann.

Leg-spinner Adam Zampa bowled well in patches despite conceding 60 from his nine overs, while Glenn Maxwell was again absent from the bowling crease as fellow off-spinner Head (1-13 from three) was preferred ahead of him. Maxwell was also dismissed for a first-ball duck while stand-in skipper Warner (19 from 32 balls), Matthew Wade (13 from 15) and Henriques (10 from 12) also missed out on more time in the middle.

The Australians now head to Birmingham for a warm-up game against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Monday ahead of their tournament opener against NZ at the same venue on Friday. (Courtesy Cricket.com.au)

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