For the fifth time in the series Sri Lanka batted first and a vaguely familiar match played out as Australia ran down the hosts’ 195 in the 43rd over, zipping up the series 4-1. Mitchell Starc was denied his customary early wicket this time, but Sri Lanka’s middle-order collapse happened anyway, as it often has in the past two weeks. Australia’s top order then delivered another consummate performance on a spinning track; the margin of victory was five wickets, but it seemed even more comfortable than that.
It was David Warner, who provided the spine to this particular chase. He capped an outstanding eight days as captain by scoring Australia’s first ODI century in Sri Lanka – his 106 from 126 balls measured and delicate, in contrast to his usual maurauding style. Warner’s 132-run third-wicket stand with George Bailey effectively ended the contest. The pair had come together at 25 for 2, but Sri Lanka’s score always seemed about 40 runs light.
The hosts had squandered their best start of the tour in their own innings, losing batsmen in clusters, then failing to produce significant partnerships before the next cascade of wickets came around. Dhananjaya de Silva and Danushka Gunathilaka were surging along happily against the new ball – making 73 for the first wicket – then three wickets fell for five runs. Before they had properly recovered from that dive, the next set of rapids was upon them. Sri Lanka lost their fourth and fifth wickets for eight runs, and sixth and seventh wickets for 20. And the last three fell within 11 runs of each other. Sachith Pathirana scored a fourth 30-odd of the innings, in the company of the tail, to go with those from the openers and Kusal Mendis.
Starc made up for missing out on his customary early wicket by helping blast out the tail and taking 3 for 40. Each of the other five Australia bowlers also made at least one breakthrough.
As has been the case for much of the tour, Australia’s bowling was disciplined rather than devilish, but Sri Lanka’s batsmen folded alarmingly when even a little pressure had built up. De Silva mis-hit James Faulkner to mid-on in the 14th over to set the collapse in motion. Six balls later, Gunathilaka misjudged the line of an Adam Zampa ball, and had his leg stump rattled when he missed a lap sweep. Dinesh Chandimal and Mendis were both out poking outside the off stump – though the latter did play some sublime strokes before the dismissal. Upul Tharanga slapped a Travis Head ball to point, and Dasun Shanaka was bowled by a Zampa slider. Starc’s full and straight deliveries were beyond the skill of Sri Lanka’s lower order to defuse.
The new ball nipped around under lights for Suranga Lakmal, and Dilruwan Perera immediately had the ball spinning sharply, but beyond the first 12 overs, Sri Lanka failed to exert substantial pressure. Having opened the innings in place of Aaron Finch, who had injured a finger while fielding in the slips, Matthew Wade gloved a ball behind as he attempted to sweep, and Usman Khawaja was soon caught off the leading edge.
Warner and Bailey had close calls themselves in the initial period, but soon began to sweep, reverse sweep, and advance down the track, with increasing confidence. Bailey was merely tapping into a body of strokes that has brought him success right through the tour, but Warner’s attempt to return to form was the more compelling of the two innings. He collected his first four with a reverse-lap off Dilruwan in the second over, but was content to score in singles and twos for much of his early stay – his second boundary did not come until the 21st over.
Dinesh Chandimal rifled through his many spin options, and though half chances were created throughout the partnership, edges continued to fall into space, and marginal decisions went against the hosts. By mid-innings, the track had begun to take dramatic turn, yet Warner and Bailey marched on, scoring off the loose balls, and scratching together runs – the ball sometimes traveling to unguarded spaces off unintended parts of the bat. Warner reached his first half-century of the series off his 72nd delivery, then hit three fours off the next five balls to herald a more attacking approach. His second fifty came off 39 balls, and the celebration upon reaching his first ODI ton in Asia was uncharacteristically restrained, as the innings had been.
Bailey fell with 39 runs to get, then Head and Warner followed not long after, but the wickets merely served to narrow the winning margin, rather than provide Sri Lanka with any real hope.
Just about the only area of success for Sri Lanka was their opening partnership, which survived past the fifth over for the first time on tour. De Silva was particularly good against Starc again, driving him gracefully through the covers in the first over, then cutting and flicking him to the fence in the fifth. Gunathilaka was punchier, putting John Hastings into the sightscreen in the fourth over then leaning back to slap him over the point region soon after. Sri Lanka’s first 50 runs came in 9.1 overs, but once the wickets began to fall, they could not arrest the slide.