Swashbuckling David Warner repaid the selector’s faith by cracking a ODI career-high 163 to beat Sri Lanka by 15 runs in a Gabba run-fest last night.
The best of three finals series started with a 627-run bonanza – Australia 6-321, Sri Lanka all out 306.
It was out of Warner and Peter Forrest to make way for skipper Michael Clarke’s return from injury. Forrest ended up with the short straw.
Warner became the sixth highest-scoring Australian 50-over international behind Shane Watson’s 185* against Bangladesh in 2011 (off 96 balls), Matt Hayden’s 181* against New Zealand in 2007, Mark Waugh’s 173 against the West Indies in 2001, Adam Gilchrist’s – 172 against Zimbabwe in 2004 and Ricky Ponting’s 164 against South Africa 2006.
Just as important as Warner’s dig was the opening partnership with Matt Wade. Up until last night the two left-handed goers were averaging only 19 for the first wicket.
But they chose an ideal time to amass 136 by the 24th over, before Wade was dismissed for 64 to give the Australians a long overdue flying start.
Surprisingly, in the end they needed it. When Sri Lanka was 6-144 in the 31st over, they appeared to be dead in the water requiring 9.37 runs an over with only four wickets in hand.
But a couple of dropped catches by Watson and Wade gave Nuwan Kulasekara and Upul Tharanga the lives they needed, and they made the most of it.
Kulasekera was brutal. His 73 off only 43 with seven fours and three sixes gave Sri Lanka a sniff. Tharanga played his support role superbly chiming in with 60 off 67 with only three fours. But he kept the scoreboard ticking by farming the strike to his on-fire partner.
To fall only 15 runs shy from such a seemingly impossible position was a credit to the Sri Lankan’s grit. But it didn’t say much for the Australian attack, nor fielding.
Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson, and Dan Christian copped some stick, and it was left to just three bowlers to share the spoils – David Hussey 4-43 off 8, Watson 3-33 off 9.2, and Brett Lee 3-59 off 9.
The Australians dodged a bullet last night, and won’t feel as confident for the second final at Adelaide tomorrow, especially as Warner is a doubtful starter with a strained groin.
Irrespective of Warner’s fitness, the Australian batting has been brittle all series. That must be addressed tomorrow or the tournament is likely to be decided in game three on Wednesday, also in Adelaide.
After such an exciting game last night, it will be interesting to see how many spectators turn up at Adelaide Oval. Last night it was a meagre 12,196 for a final.
The night before 33,563 braved atrocious conditions at Suncorp to watch the reigning champion Reds take on the lowly Force in the Super Rugby.
Those figures underline the folly of Cricket Australia to extend the season too far. Sports fans are in football mode.