Thriller in Dambulla puts Aussies 2-1 up

29 August 2016

Bailey's 70 and Zampa's three wickets help Australia to victory after Chandimal century

Australia v Sri Lanka ODIs, Third ODI


A change of skipper has delivered Australia a shift in fortunes as they defied another early batting stumble and the threat of Sri Lanka's spin fleet to post a narrow win and a 2-1 ODI series lead over Sri Lanka.

Chasing what on paper looked to be a modest target of 226, but on what became a far more challenging proposition on yet another bone dry pitch tailor-made for spin bowlers, the tourists snuck home with two wickets and four overs to spare.

The winning run coming amid high tension as the field closed in around tailenders Adam Zampa and John Hastings and Zampa's attempt to clear them resulted in a tough overhead chance to cover point, with the spilled effort granting Australia a hard-earned victory.

It was a win set up by some diligent bowlers and then crowned by a similarly gritty innings of 70 from George Bailey, who had served as Australia's preferred interim ODI captain before the Steve Smith-David Warner leadership team was installed last year.

Chandimal ton takes Lankans to 226

The win not only doubles the number of victories Australia has earned over a  tough seven weeks of Tests and ODIs, and puts them in front in the five-match campaign that resumes at Dambulla on Wednesday.

But it also means David Warner now joins Australia's first-ever ODI skipper Bill Lawry and one its more recent stand-ins, Cameron White, as the only captains to boast a 100 per cent winning record in the one-day format.

Though that will come under stern challenge over the next week.

Australia's rescue mission was begun by Bailey in partnership with Travis Head, with the former captain and the budding star turning a scoreline of 3-44 to 4-106 before Head fell in hauntingly familiar fashion.

Like so many of his country's Test players over recent weeks, he failed to negotiate the spinner's delivery that slides on with the arm and saw his stumps rattled as a result.

The job was then taken up by Bailey's fellow Tasmanian (by birth) Matthew Wade, who has emerged as one of Australia's most adept at batting against Sri Lanka's spin battery.

Although they found the going increasingly difficult as the pitch slowed to a crawl, Bailey and Wade found the gaps with sufficient regularity and the boundaries just often enough to tilt the match in Australia's favour.

But the challenge was always going to be the loss of a wicket or two and a lower-order batter having to start from scratch on the scratchy surface.

So it was when the third stumping appeal against Wade finally proved fruitful, and the mental (as well as physical battle) ultimately did for Bailey whose tired defensive push missed the ball which then rebounded from his pad to the stumps.

However, the 70 he had scored from 99 balls in more than two hours of batting would be comfortably worth more than a century in most other ODI competitions around the world.

Dynamic Dinesh does it again

Which, in turn, put Dinesh Chandimal's hundred earlier in the day in even sharper context and almost saw him eclipse retiring ex-captain Tillakaratne Dilshan – who was paraded around the ground at match end while the tourists stood about waiting for the post-match presentation – as the day's local hero.

Certainly those members of the well-above capacity crowd who hung around for the tight finish were happy to wave Dilshan goodbye (from ODI cricket, he still has a couple of T20I farewells to make) and applaud Chandimal's game-high 102 before they vanished into the night.

Arriving at the wicket – another dry turner on which Australia chose to unleash a seam attack further bolstered by the inclusion of John Hastings – with Sri Lanka 2-23 in the fourth over, Chandimal took charge.

Possessed of a reputation as a heavy hitter but who – at the age of 26 – took on the role of senior man in a Test series where his team blooded much young talent, the vice-captain played his original way at the start of today's innings.

To the delight of heaving crowd that began the day boisterous and ended it going bananas, Chandimal launched an early counter-attack against Mitchell Starc who had once again knocked over an opener in his first over.

Two sizzling boundaries in three deliveries got him underway and then another in the subsequent over from Starc's new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood suggested this was to be an innings from the Chandimal of old.

Back when he was even younger.

But he then reverted to more recent type, and his next three boundaries took the best part of 45 overs to accumulate.

Partly because those teammates with comparable experience – the departing Dilshan and captain Angelo Mathews – fell in close proximity to leave Sri Lanka in a now familiar wobble at 4-103 in the 21st over.

Dilshan plays his final ODI hand

The authority that Chandimal assumed throughout the remainder of the innings, to not only ensure that his team not only batted deep into their allotment of overs but posted a total their spinners could bowl at with a measure of freedom.

At a ground where the average first innings total in a day-night ODI (admittedly under the lower-luxe lighting that was in place before the plug was pulled on the ground in 2010) is much closer to 300 than 200.

No other batter to come after Chandimal reached 20, yet the vice-captain piloted them all through some disciplined seam bowling, canny field placements and a pitch that once again made free-flowing stroke play harder to find than a vantage point at the over-subscribed venue.

In sticking with his five specialist bowlers, and eschewing the part-time spin of Travis Head and others, Warner oversaw the best all-round bowling effort of the series thus far with all five chipping in with timely wickets.

While Starc and Hazlewood made the vital early strikes, it was Zampa – filling the entire roster for the spin bowling department in the absence of Nathan Lyon – who returned the best figures (3-38 from 10 overs).

Full, short and bang on the money

Even though his dismissal of Dilshan – who left the field and the ODI game to a hug from Chandimal, handshakes from several Australians including Warner and a rousing, prolonged ovation – was essentially good fortune, there was much to enthuse though other parts of his spell.

Even on the occasions he came up short, such as the misfield off his bowling that gave away a single, he bounced straight back.

On that occasion, claiming the vital wicket of Mathews the very next ball, a dismissal that would not have been possible had the batsmen not crossed on his earlier error.

Hastings (2-41) also added steel and steadiness in the middle overs in his first outing since injury cost him a place in the recent successful ODI campaign in the Caribbean.

While James Faulkner once more proved his worth as a wicket-taker and a runs-stemmer on these slow, dry pitches with his ability to take pace off the ball (and the scoreboard) as batters search for boundaries in the latter overs.

But all that good work looked to have come undone when Australia's top-order again floundered against spin and seam in the first 10 overs.

Warner's run of outs couldn't be arrested by taking over the captaincy, and his opening partner Aaron Finch again was cut down just as the big score he seems destined to find beckoned tantalisingly.

This time it was to a close lbw call against greenhorn left-arm spinner Amila Aponso which umpire Aleem Dar ruled to be out even though the opener was out of his crease and the ball was sliding on with the bowler's arm.

Finch clearly wasn't convinced and consulted his batting partner Shaun Marsh, who occupied a worse vantage point than umpire Dar and was therefore unsure there was sufficient evidence to have the verdict overturned.

If Finch was upset when the ball-tracking replays later showed it clearly missing leg stump then he would not have needed to wait long to share it with Marsh, who joined him back in the sheds eight balls later.

Catch controversy adds to collapse

After himself sweating on a contentious review call, when the ball that stopped on him and he mistimed to mid-off where Chandimal – having again handed the wicketkeeping gloves to understudy Kusal Perera – launched himself forward to scoop the chance.

While repeated replays failed to show conclusive proof that Chandimal had slid his heavily bandaged fingers between the ball and the ground, Marsh was sent on his way for one in his return innings.

And Chandimal added another to the hundred earlier reasons that this was his match.

Meg Lanning Steve Smith

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