Asela Gunaratne played arguably one of the greatest Twenty20 innings ever to conjure a miraculous two-wicket victory for Sri Lanka in game two at Kardinya Park and win the series over an ashen-faced Australia on Sunday (February 19).
During the historic first international match in Geelong, which is located about 75 metres south-west of Melbourne, Gunaratne scored a 46-ball 84 and smashed a boundary off the final ball as Sri Lanka somehow chased down the target of 174.
Sri Lanka looked dead and buried during multiple stages, particularly lurching at 40 for 5 in the fifth over. Gunaratne then played a virtuoso innings but it seemed in vain as Sri Lanka still needed 36 runs off 11 deliveries. However, Gunaratne lit a fuse under the match with a trio of sixes off Moises Henriques and then a boundary two balls later to leave Sri Lanka needing 14 runs off the final over to win the series.
In the second ball of the last over, Gunaratne hit Andrew Tye for a boundary followed by a six as the unfathomable heisting seemed like it was actually going to happen. Gunaratne dubiously took a single off the fourth ball leaving tailender Lasith Malinga on strike for the penultimate delivery but the veteran was able to scamper a single to hand the strike to his rampaging teammate.
There was no stopping the white hot Gunaratne, who smashed Tye’s delivery over wide long-off to spark jubilant celebrations for Sri Lanka, who have now amazingly won five consecutive T20Is in Australia.
A Sri Lankan victory appeared a pipedream after their top-order was ripped apart by an energetic Australia. Aaron Finch, Australia’s captain, made a deft tactical move by starting with off-spinner Ashton Turner to counter Sri Lanka’s bold hitting which smashed the quicks in Melbourne. The gamble prove a spectacular success with Upul Tharanga, the Sri Lankan captain, holing out in thefirst over but his dismissal brought a reunion between Niroshan Dickwella and Dilshan Munaweera, with the pair fresh off a breathtaking 47-ball 74-run partnership.
Sri Lanka’s chances seemingly rested on the cavalier pair and promptly Pat Cummins, Australia’s spearhead, was smashed for 17 runs in his first over as Dickwella and Munweera left off from their game one heroics.
However, in a decisive moment, Dickwella (14 off 8 balls) was deemed caught behind attempting the scoop shot off James Faulkner but replays confirmed the ball had hit his shoulder. Shortly after, debutant Jhye Richardson, who was preferred ahead of the beleaguered Billy Stanlake, struck in his first over of international cricket when he enticed an edge from Kusal Mendis to leave Sri Lanka in tatters at 27 for 3.
The match seemed essentially over when Munaweera and Milinda Siriwardana fell in consecutive deliveries to paceman Andrew Tye in the fifth over until Gunaratne stunningly rewrote the script.
Earlier, for the second consecutive match, Tharanga won the toss and elected to bowl on an unknown pitch, which surprisingly offered bounce, swing and spin but, of course, there was plenty of runs on offer aided by the ground’s short boundaries.
Much like in Melbourne, Australia’s innings stuttered as they appeared set for a mammoth target but lost wickets at key junctures to be bowled out for 173 on the last ball of the innings. A score of around 190 seemed a possibility when Australia were sitting pretty at 113 for 2 in the 14th over but they were stymied by brilliant swing bowling at the death by Lasith Malinga (2/31 from 4 overs) and Nuwan Kulasekara (4/31 from 4).
Amid a succession of wickets, Henriques (56 not out from 37 balls) played a lone hand during the backend of the innings with a flurry of brutal strokes complemented by hard running between the wickets as he perfectly manipulated the field. Reminiscent of game one, Australia were unable to capitalise on a fast start with Ben Dunk, recalled into the team after missing game one, eviscerating the Sri Lankan attack after the early loss of Finch.
Dunk, who had a spectacular Big Bash League highlighted by a strike-rate of 164, came out slashing and his brutal cameo of 14-ball 32 was made notable by smashing three sixes in four balls off spinner Munaweera in the sixth over.
Australia was tracking at 10 runs an over until Dunk was deceived by Gunarathne’s beguiling spin and clean bowled as the hosts lost momentum shortly after. After an impressive international debut at the MCG, Michael Klinger struggled to find the gaps as Gunarathne and Seekkuge Prasanna put the brakes on in the middle overs. Just when Klinger (43 off 37) started to rediscover his groove, he perished to trigger a startling Australian spiral.
It could have been much worse had Chamara Kapugedera clung onto a regulation catch on the boundary when Henriques was on 19. That blunder coupled with lackluster Sri Lankan fielding proved costly but Gunaratne’s heroics made up for it.
The series finale, which will be the last international match of the Australian season, will be played at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday (February 22).
Brief scores: Australia 173 in 20 overs (Moises Henriques 56*, Michael Klinger 43; Nuwan Kulasekara 4-31, Lasith Malinga 2-31) lost to Sri Lanka 176/8 in 20 overs (Asela Gunaratne 84*, Chamara Kapugedera 32