There were reasons for Sri Lankan fans to cheer at the third ODI in Dambulla. But the result wasn’t one of them. On a day when Tillakaratne Dilshan was farewelled from one-day international cricket, and Dinesh Chandimal scored his fourth ODI hundred, Australia held on for a tense victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead with two to play – and gave David Warner a 100% success rate as an international captain.
Not that it was all smooth sailing. Chasing 227, Australia relatively cruised most of the way. At 187 for 4 they needed only 40 more runs, with George Bailey and Matthew Wade both well set, but suddenly Sri Lanka’s spinners came into the game. Four wickets fell in quick time and it was beginning to look like Australia might find a way to throw it away. It was Adam Zampa who struck the winning runs, a boundary behind point off Amila Aponso, and a single next ball.
It wasn’t any old single – it was cut in the air towards extra cover, where Angelo Mathews hurled himself into the air to try for a one-handed catch. The ball didn’t stick, and the result was sealed: a two-wicket win, though with four full overs remaining. That Sri Lanka came that close to pulling the rug out from under Australia was a fine effort, given the solid way the chase unfolded through two key partnerships.
In the absence of captain Steven Smith, who had flown home for a rest, Australia needed a leader to steer the chase. It would not be Warner, who fell in the fifth over to a terrific diving catch from Dilshan at point off Mathews. Nor would it be Aaron Finch, lbw to Aponso for a brisk 30, nor Shaun Marsh, caught by a diving Chandimal at mid-off off Mathews for 1.
The man was Bailey, the most experienced ODI player in the side. He set about building a 62-run partnership with Travis Head, and then an 81-run stand with Wade that took Australia to within sight of their victory. It wasn’t always easy; Sri Lanka’s spinners were always a threat, but they needed more runs to defend, their own batting having been disappointing earlier in the day.
Head played a mature innings of 36 that ended when he went back to cut Dilruwan Perera, only to see the ball skid on to his stumps. And Wade, a consistent performer this series, contributed 42 before he missed a sweep and was stumped off the same bowler. That was the wicket that precipitated Australia’s collapse, though as it happened they were by then just close enough to get over the line.
The Sri Lankan crowd came alive as the spinners crowded Australia’s batsmen. Bailey simply missed a legbreak from Seekkuge Prasanna and was bowled for 70, then in the next over James Faulkner holed out off Aponso. The Finisher was finished, but Australia weren’t quite yet. Mitchell Starc sent Prasanna over long-on for six but was caught in the next over trying for another off Dhananjaya de Silva. Zampa walked to the crease with five runs still needed, and he got them, with John Hastings unbeaten at the other end.
Sri Lanka’s own innings – all out for 226 in the 50th over – never quite looked like enough. Wickets fell regularly throughout the innings, the only half-century partnership a 73-run combination between Chandimal and Dilshan. Zampa was again a key weapon, collecting 3 for 38 from his 10 overs, and there were two victims each for Starc, Faulkner and Hastings.
The innings was built around Chandimal’s fourth ODI hundred. Of late in one-day cricket Chandimal has been batting like he’s Keanu Reeves in Speed, afraid something terrible will happen if he drops below 50. He did so, marginally, in the second ODI in Colombo, where his 48 ended his hopes of becoming the first Sri Lankan to make six consecutive one-day international fifties. But in Dambulla he was back. His last seven ODI innings now read: 52, 62, 63, 53, 80*, 48 and 102.
Chandimal’s approach was simple: push the ball into the gaps and rotate the strike. Repeat, and repeat. That method brought him 56 singles, although he managed seven boundaries as well, driving when the fast men overpitched or punishing them for bowling too straight. His half-century came up with a deft dab for four wide of the wicketkeeper off Hastings from his 66th ball.
His primary support came from Dilshan, the retiring hero who struck five fours on his way to an enterprising 42. But the dream of a big farewell innings ended when Dilshan whacked a Zampa full toss to midwicket and was well caught by Bailey. To the applause of players and fans, Dilshan walked off with a bow fitting for the entertainer that he was, the owner of 10,290 ODI runs, the 11th-highest tally in history.
Sri Lanka’s other batsmen were disappointing. For the second time in the series Starc struck in the first over of the innings, bowling Danushka Gunathilaka, and the total wobbled to 23 for 2 when Kusal Mendis edged Josh Hazlewood to slip for 4. The wickets fell with regularity again after Dilshan departed.
Mathews was lbw for 2 to Zampa, who had pitched the ball on leg and straightened it just enough. Marsh ran and jumped to his left at mid-on to snare de Silva for 12 off Faulkner, and also held one in the deep when Thisara Perera holed out off Hastings for 9. In between those takes, Starc’s brutal inswinging yorker accounted for Kusal Perera, who kept one out but could not manage two and saw his stumps rattled on 11.
Seekkuge Prasanna picked out deep midwicket off Zampa and Dilruwan Perera added 17 before chipping a catch to midwicket off Hastings, which left Chandimal nervously hoping the No.11 Aponso could help him reach triple figures. He did so, and the Sri Lankan fans roared. The final result was not so pleasing for them.