For 25 overs with the ball and 40 overs with the bat, at a Sydney Cricket Ground that felt like Colombo, Sri Lanka gave Australia a real scare. Glenn Maxwell’s explosive hitting fetched him a 51-ball century and propelled Australia to 376 for 9, but with Kumar Sangakkara scoring a third successive hundred, buttressed by Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 62 and Dinesh Chandimal’s dazzling 22-ball half-century, Sri Lanka were in the game till the last ten overs. They eventually fell 64 short, as Australia ensured they would finish second in Pool A and entertain either Pakistan or Ireland in the Adelaide quarterfinal.
Before the tournament began, Maxwell had spoken of how much he disliked his ‘Big Show’ nickname. But, in front of a sizeable crowd where the Sri Lankan flags seemed to be in a majority, the slugger who has made the reverse-sweep mainstream put on an awesome exhibition that completely transformed the innings.
Australia were 175 for 3 in the 32nd over when he marked his guard. It took him six balls to find his bearings. The seventh, from Sachithra Senanayake, was smacked down to long-off for four. Maxwell cover-drove, reverse-lapped and pulled with abandon. A pull for six off Thisara Perera took him to a half-century in 26 balls, and the pace never slackened as Seekkuge Prasanna was carved for three leg-side fours.
A miscue fell just out of Perera’s reach, and with Shane Watson now joining the six-hitting, Sri Lanka unravelled. Sangakkara ran back 20 yards to try and catch a top edge off Maxwell’s bat, but couldn’t hold on, and a couple of runs over the cover fielder took Maxwell to three figures, an innings that included ten fours and four sixes.
Watson, restored to the side after being dropped for the Afghanistan game, took just 30 balls for his half-century, and played a couple of gorgeous drives down the ground. Neither he (67 off 41 balls) nor Maxwell stayed to the end, but there was no respite for the beleaguered fielders as Brad Haddin thumped 25 from just nine balls.
It was a far cry from how the innings began. Malinga’s second ball had induced an edge from Aaron Finch, but Mahela Jayawardene at first slip couldn’t hold on to a very low chance to his right. Senanayake shared the new ball with him, and his fourth delivery went off Finch’s pad and glove. Sangakkara couldn’t hold on.
David Warner, one of the local heroes, made just nine, as Malinga followed a yorker with a slower ball that Warner could only push to cover. Prasanna, the legspinner, drafted in as replacement for the injured Dimuth Karunaratne, was on as early as the ninth over. Finch swept his second ball for four, but the fourth slid straight on as Finch (24 off 24 balls) charged. Sangakkara did the rest.
Smith took two fours from a Mathews over to prevent the innings from stalling, as Clarke started slowly. It took the captain 31 balls to hit his first four, a club to long-on off Perera. Smith accumulated runs mainly through cuts and drives, and a fine paddle sweep got him to 50 off 72 balls.
The acceleration began when Senanayake returned. Clarke thumped one over cover before reaching his half-century in 56 balls, and Smith sent one soaring over long-off. It was Malinga that returned to end the 134-run partnership. After driving a yorker for four, Clarke saw the next ball – Malinga’s foot was perhaps a millimetre behind the line – crash into middle and leg. He had made a run-a-ball 68.
Four balls later, Smith (72 off 88 balls) miscued one off Dilshan. Perera ran back from mid-off and took a stunning catch. At 177 for 4, Sri Lanka were right in the hunt. Unfortunately for them, Maxwell had other ideas.
The pursuit of 377 began with an early setback, as Lahiru Thirimanne edged behind a Mitchell Johnson delivery that reared up at him. But after the first five overs produced just 18, Dilshan cut loose with six fours in a Johnson over.
Dilshan dusted off his scoop over the keeper, and with Sangakkara square-driving and cutting with panache, Sri Lanka ticked along at around the required rate. Clarke dropped a difficult chance running back from midwicket when Dilshan was on 47, and soon after, the crowd were on their feet to acclaim Sangakkara’s 14,000th ODI run – only the second man after Sachin Tendulkar to score as many.
He took 45 balls to reach his half-century, while Dilshan took three fewer. The partnership was worth 130 in just 119 balls when a James Faulkner slower ball flummoxed Dilshan, who also used up Sri Lanka’s review before departing.
With Faulkner bowling a tidy spell, the rate slowed, and at halfway, Sri Lanka were 150 for 2 and in need of a spurt. Sangakkara provided it with three fours in a Faulkner over. But the batting Power Play, which Sri Lanka took in the 30th over, gave Australia a grip on the game. First, Jayawardene, who added 53 in 57 balls with Sangakkara, was caught short by a direct hit from Clarke at mid-off, and then Sangakkara miscued Faulkner to deep cover. As with Malinga, there was perhaps an mm behind the bowling crease.
Sri Lanka, however, refused to go quietly. Chandimal smacked eight fours and a six over midwicket. As many as 26 came off ten balls from Watson, as he swung merrily at everything. With Mathew also muscling a six over midwicket, the equation was down to 105 off the last ten overs.
Then, disaster. Chandimal appeared to injure his hamstring and had to go off. Moments later, Mathews top-edged a Watson bouncer behind. The Perera cameo lasted just three balls, as Sri Lanka, after a mighty effort, finally ran out of puff.