Gunaratne, Munaweera star in Sri Lanka’s last-ball win

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Gunaratne scored a half-century in the chase.

Sri Lanka has continued their merry way in Twenty20 International cricket Down Under with a gripping last ball five-wicket victory over Australia in game one at the MCG on Friday (February 17).

Chasing 169, Sri Lanka needed six runs off the final over but were stymied by paceman Andrew Tye’s cunning bowling. They could only scamper singles after the first ball of the over was a dot meaning the match went down to the final delivery.

Ever calm, Chamara Kapugedera smashed a cover boundary off the final delivery to win the match for Sri Lanka and give them a 1-0 lead in the three-game series.

Astoundingly, Sri Lanka remain unbeaten in Australia in the format with their fourth straight win while the hosts haven’t won on home soil in T20Is since November of 2004 and have endured four consecutive losses.

It was also an unsuccessful start for Australia’s interim coaching staff consisting of the revered triumvirate of Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting and Jason Gillespie but Australia were gallant in defeat with their best players concurrently playing in India during their tour opener.

Leading the attack due to the absences of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, Pat Cummins got Australia off to a perfect start by having Sri Lankan captain Upul Tharanga (0) caught behind in the first over. However, the match suddenly flipped through spectacular batting from DilshanMunaweera (44 from 29 balls) and Niroshan Dickwella (30 from 25).

Evoking the very best of Sri Lanka’s cavalier batting, Munaweera and Dickwella combined in a blistering 47-ball 74-run partnership to give the visitors the ascendancy.

The pair boldly counterattacked from the get go with Munaweera smashing three consecutive boundaries off Billy
Stanlake, a towering paceman who was made to look anything but intimidating. There wasn’t a hole big enough for the 6 foot 8 quick to climb into after he was eviscerated for 24 runs in his second over.

Two decades ago, legendary Sri Lankan openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana astonished Australian fans with their audaciousness. In similar fashion, Dickwella and Munaweera dazzled with breathtaking strokes to ensure their abundance of hardy fans – who may haveoutnumbered locals – made the MCG reverberate.

Dickwella’s innings was highlighted by an astounding scoop shot for six off the beleaguered Stanlake, while Munaweera mixed orthodoxy – punctuated by one sublime straight drive – with inventiveness to propel Sri Lanka’s run rate over 10 an over.

Just when Sri Lanka appeared to be in a dominant position, Adam Zampa (2/26 from 4 overs), Australia’s legspinner, dismissed both dangerous batsmen to change the course of the match. However, Asela Gunaratne (52 from 37 balls) steadied the ship and struck consecutive boundaries off James Faulkner in a decisive 16th over to wickedly flip the switch.

With Sri Lanka tantalisingly close to victory needing 18 runs off 18 balls, Gunaratne had a brain fade and was stumped off Ashton Turner, who claimed another wicket two balls later to ensure the match went down to the wire.

Earlier, after Sri Lanka won the toss and surprisingly elected to bowl, Australia had a fast start against Sri Lanka’s pacemen who were unable to conjure swing on a sedate pitch.

After a spectacular recent Big Bash League to spearhead the Perth Scorchers to glory, Michael Klinger, the 36-year- old debutant, instantly showcased his hot form whipping a crisp two off Lasith Malinga, the Sri Lankan firebrand making his international comeback.

Shortly after, Klinger tore apart fellow debutant Vikum Sanjaya, who was plundered for 16 runs in his second over. With an orthodox technique, Klinger lacks the flamboyancy befitting cricket’s shortest format but his flowing drives consistently found the boundary as he outpaced Finch, a brutish batsman in this format, who passed 1000 T20I runs to become the third Australian to pass that landmark.

With a strong platform laid, it appeared Australia were headed for a massive score but runs started to dry up on a staid wicket through menacing spinners Lakshan Sandakan (1/30 from 4 overs) and Seekkuge Prasanna (0/23 from 4 overs).

Sandakan, who starred during the Test series against Australia in Sri Lanka last year, broke through by deceiving Klinger with a wrong ‘un to end the 76-run opening partnership. Struggling during a sedate start, Finch (43 from 34 balls) expanded mid-innings with typical belligerent strokes before throwing away his wicket after being bamboozled by a Gunaratne slower delivery.

Replacing injured skipper Angelo Mathews, Tharanga’s captaincy was astute and he delicately rotated his bowlers as Sri Lanka fought back impressively after Australia’s brisk start. However, his one blunder in the field proved costly when he dropped Travis Head (31 from 25 ball) in a sitter of a chance at gully when the South Australian captain was only on 4.

Head provided some late fireworks to propel Australia to a seemingly competitive total which could have been greater if not for Malinga’s (2/29 from 4 overs) sharp bowling at the death which yielded wickets in consecutive balls in the penultimate over of the innings.

Game two will be played in Geelong, which will host its first ever international, on Sunday (February 19).

Brief scores: Australia 168/6 in 20 overs (Aaron Finch 43, Michael Klinger 38; Lasith Malinga 2-29) lost to Sri Lanka 172/5 in 20 overs (Asela Gunaratne 52, Dilshan Munaweera 44; Ashton Turner 2-12, Adam Zampa 2-26) by 5 wickets.

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