Australia win tricky series opener

Daily Mirror — August 22

Captain Steven Smith and opener Aaron Finch both scored half-centuries to help Australia to a three-wicket win on a slow and dry R. Premadasa pitch yesterday, taking the first One Day International in the five-match series.

Sri Lanka chose to go into the game without a front-line seamer, giving debuts to off-spinner Amila Aponso and leg-spinner Lakshan Sandakan with Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera taking on the pace-bowling duties after Nuwan Pradeep was injured shortly before the game, and would have hoped to exploit the pitch and the Aussies’ weakness for spin.

Chasing 227, Finch got Australia off to a quick start hitting two sixes and three boundaries as Australia reached 40 in the first five overs, before Thisara Perera struck in the seventh over to dismiss his opening partner David Warner for 12. Finch then struck three more boundaries as Australia reached 61 after 10 overs, silencing the near capacity Premadasa crowd.

He reached his fifty in the 12th over, scored in just 37 balls, but two overs later became Aponso’s first international wicket when he was given out caught behind — given out by third umpire Michael Gough after the umpires chose to refer the decision to him — for 56.

A 49-run partnership off 64 balls between Smith and Matthew Wade got the Aussies’ chase back on track, before Wade became Sandakan’s first ODI wicket, sweeping straight to Tillakaratne Dilshan at short mid-wicket when the leg-spinner came on to bowl for the first time in the 25th over.

Present and past combined as the current captain Smith and former Aussie ODI captain George Bailey put on 62 runs for the fourth wicket, sending the crowd into silence again, and half of them to the exits. Smith’s calm and measured knock gave little away and ensured that the visitors controlled the game chasing a tricky but gettable target.

When Smith fell for 58 — caught at short leg by substitute fielder Danushka Gunathilaka who took the catch on a second attempt — Australia were 37 runs away from victory, and the wickets of Moises Henriques, George Bailey and Travis Head proved too little too late.

Mitchell Starc scored the winning runs with a single with 19 balls left in the innings.

Dilruwan Perera ended with figures of 3 for 45 in his 10 overs.

Sri Lanka were asked to bat first after Smith won the toss, and at one point the hosts looked on course to score much more than the 226 runs they were restricted to in their fifty overs.

Kusal Mendis scored his fourth half-century before vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal scored his fifth consecutive ODI fifty — batting on despite being hit on the ribs in the 43rd over when he charged down the track to Moises Henriques — finishing the innings unbeaten on 80.

Mendis came into bat just four balls into the innings after Starc, Australia’s best bowler in the Test series, gave his team the perfect start, beating Kusal Perera with an in-swinger which crashed into the batsman’s off-stump.

Mendis benefitted from two early reprieves in his innings — a dropped catch and a review — on the way to his fifty, his fourth in just eight ODI matches.

He was dropped at the mid-wicket boundary in the ninth over when he slogged James Faulkner straight to Finch, but the fielder, with the sun in his eyes, let the ball slip through, and gave the batsman his second boundary.

Four overs later he was given not out to a leg-before appeal by leg-spinner Adam Zampa, which Smith reviewed, and while the Decision Review System (DRS) showed the ball would hit the stumps, it wasn’t enough of a margin to overturn the on-field call.

In between those two reprieves Sri Lanka lost their second wicket, when Tillakaratne Dilshan attempted a ‘Dilscoop’ which took a top edge and was caught by Steven Smith running in from point, out for 22, ending a 42-run partnership.

Mendis reached his half-century with his fourth boundary — a crisp sweep to deep square leg, splitting two fielders in the deep — in the 78th delivery he faced.

His sixth boundary, a well-timed pull shot, landed short of the long leg boundary but he was out in the next over when he tried to go over mid-on, only to top edge it to Travis Head at mid-wicket, ending a 79-partnership with Dinesh Chandimal.

Mathews was out four balls later when he slashed at Faulkner, straight to Head at point, out for a duck with the score on 124. Dhananjaya de Silva followed soon after — Sri Lanka’s third wicket in the space of eight runs — when he lobbed a half-shot to George Bailey at mid-wicket, giving Starc his second wicket of the game, and the 100th in his 52nd ODI, making him the fastest to reach that mark — one game ahead of Pakistan’s Saqlain Mushtaq.

A sixth-wicket partnership of 41 between Chandimal and Milinda Siriwardana put Sri Lanka on track again, before Siriwardana’s half-lofted-drive only got as far as the 30-yard circle, with Aaron Finch taking a running catch, giving Starc his third, as the left-armer ended with excellent figures of 3 for 32 in his 10 overs.

Thisara Perera, also playing his first ODI since January, walked into arguably the biggest cheer from the crowd, and didn’t disappoint with two boundaries in the first three balls he faced. He would go on to score one more boundary before a mistimed shot flew behind the wicket, where Matthew Wade took a diving catch, with 16 balls left in the innings.

Dilruwan Perera added 10 with two boundaries in the penultimate over, as Sri Lanka ended their innings on 227 for eight.

James Faulkner was named Man of the Match with figures of 4 for 38.


Originally published at lk.wisdenasia.com on August 22, 2016.

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