It wasn’t always easy, but Australia have overcome another poor start with the ball to inflict a middle-overs collapse on Sri Lanka, before cruising to an eventually comfortable five-wicket victory to open their World Cup account.
Heading into the clash dead last on the tournament table after successive heavy defeats to India and South Africa, the five-time champions’ campaign looked in peril when Sri Lankan openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Perera each raised 50s in a sprightly 125-run opening stand.
But from 1/157, they would collapse to lose their final nine wickets for just 52 runs, with Adam Zampa the chief destroyer with four wickets in a player of the match-winning performance, and timely return to form – made all the more impressive by his continued suffering from a back spasm that left him constantly requiring physio treatment on the boundary.
Just as crucial were a pair of brilliant catches in the deep from David Warner to remove Nissanka and Sri Lankan captain Kusal Mendis and begin the collapse, while two wickets apiece from Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, the former also inflicting a run out, provided timely breakthroughs.
In response, Australia recovered from a nervous start in which David Warner (11) and Steve Smith (0) both fell in an inspired start from Sri Lankan quick Dilshan Madushanka, but a brutal half-century from Mitchell Marsh, followed by strong showings from Marnus Labuschagne (40), Josh Inglis (58) and Glenn Maxwell (31 not out from 21 balls) secured victory with 88 balls to spare, bringing with it a handy boost to the Aussies’ fledgling net run rate.
Having controversially replaced Alex Carey with the gloves after their opening loss to India, Inglis’ second ODI half-century would have been among the most pleasing aspects of the victory for the Australian brains trust, securing his spot for the remainder of the tournament with a chanceless run-a-ball innings that featured plenty of his trademark innovative strokeplay.
With the excellent Madushanka providing three of Sri Lanka’s five wickets, few other bowlers could make an impact on the Australian chase, with spinners Maheesh Theekshana and Dunith Wellalage combining for just one wicket and going for 102 runs between them off 16.2 overs.
The emphatic win boosts Australia above Sri Lanka and the Netherlands into eighth on the tournament standings, with their net run rate up to -0.734: small steps, to be sure, but welcome progress all the same for a side still facing a swathe of must-win matches to have any hope of progressing to the semi-finals.
“Our group’s got pretty high standards, and everyone wanted to come out and be really up for it,” a happy Cummins said of his team’s performance.
“The energy in the field was great to start with, and everything else flowed.
“They started really well, I thought we bowled decently – we were staring down the barrel… but the way we stayed at it, all the bowlers came in, hit the wicket hard, did their job. To have them out for 210 was a great effort.
“That was almost all parts of the game came together at the end. That’s the standard – we’re underway now, we’re into the tournament.”
Having lost the toss, Australia took to the field to begin proceedings for the second consecutive match in Lucknow, having done likewise in South Africa – and to begin with, the Aussie attack was faced with an identical script.
As had happened to devastating effect against the Proteas, early wickets remained out of reach as Nissanka and Perera powered through the opening salvoes with a century stand to leave Australia on the back foot once more.
Desperately needing a win to keep their hopes of a semi-final berth alive, the Aussies’ desperation was summed up by a frivolous review off the very first ball of the match, Cummins sending an LBW shout against Nissanka upstairs only to find Starc’s inswinger had come straight off the bat, and was likely heading down the leg side regardless.
The gambit would prove doubly costly as the Sri Lankan pair set about setting up a sizeable platform, with Cummins opting not to review a furious LBW shout from Maxwell with Perera on 24, with DRS soon confirming that not out decision would have been overturned had Australia chosen to head upstairs.
With Labsuchagne spilling a tough but gettable chance at mid-wicket to spare Nissanka, Australia looked every inch the lifeless and drained team they had been in losses to India and the Proteas thus far at the World Cup; as the century stand was reached in the 18th over and Zampa’s leg-spin punished with two Nissanka boundaries in his first three balls, a monster score looked all but certain.
Having breezed to 61, though, Nissanka would at last bring about his own downfall, a miscued hook off Cummins giving Warner just enough of a sniff in the deep for the veteran to sprint around from square leg and take a superb, momentum-changing diving catch.
The breakthrough looked little comfort as Perera continued the onslaught, racing into the 70s as the 150 mark was brought up at run-a-ball pace.
Enter Cummins: having looked lacklustre with the ball against India and South Africa, the captain summoned his devastating best to produce a deadly nip-backer that pierced the gap between Perera’s bat and pad and disturbed his furniture.
At 2/157, Sri Lanka seemed still in a good position despite the loss of both set openers: what followed would be a collapse every bit as disastrous as Pakistan’s in their recent capitulation against India.
Next to fall was acting captain Mendis an over later – fresh off a century against Pakistan, the Sri Lankan star’s top-edged sweep for another sensational Warner catch in the deep was doubly handy for Australia, removing a dangerous batter while delivering a much-needed boost to Zampa’s confidence.
Having struggled badly with his rhythm and appearing hampered by mid-week back spasms, the scalp would prove just the tonic to cure whatever was ailing the leg-spinner.
As did a bit of luck, Zampa on a hat-trick after a well-disguised slider trapping Sadeera Samarawickrama LBW, Joel Wilson’s raised finger spelling doom for the Sri Lankan as a review found the ball to be fractionally clipping leg stump.
Having slumped to 4/178 and looking in danger of squandering their spectacular start, a rain break and chance to reset should have been a mercy for Sri Lanka: instead, two balls after the resumption, Starc struck as a leaden-footed Dhananjaya de Silva dragged on to continue the turnaround.
As with all collapses, a run out added to the misery, Cummins again stepping up with a pinpoint throw from mid-off to make all-rounder Wellalage pay full price for a risky single.
The tail exposed, the end came quickly; while Charith Asalanka did his best to stem the tide with a flawless lofted drive off Zampa for the innings’ first six, the Sri Lankan bowlers offered scant resistance.
Chamika Karunaratne was utterly bamboozled by a trademark Zampa googly, trapped LBW for the leg-spinner’s third; that became four an over later, three of them LBWs when another googly proved too much for Theekshana.
With two overs to go, Zampa would be unceremoniously yanked from the attack by Cummins to deny the chance at a five-wicket haul, perhaps fearing the left-handed Asalanka would look to attack with the spin.
It was left to Starc and Maxwell to finish things off, the former scything through Lahiru Kumara’s defences with a yorker far too good for the tailender, the latter ending Asalanka’s stay via a top-edged sweep well pouched by Labuschagne as heavy winds continued to swirl.
All up, the carnage read 10 wickets for 84 runs, the last nine for a mere 52: when Marsh powered Kumara back over his head for four on the first ball of the run chase, a breakthrough Australian win appeared a formality.
With 15 taken off the first over and 24 from the first three, left-armer Dilshan Madushanka provided the first act of resistance, Australia’s earlier LBW luck deserting them as the DRS produced yet more controversy.
After Warner was given out LBW, the opener was almost laughing as he instantly reviewed, convinced the ball had to be sliding down the leg side: when ball-tracker projected it to be clipping leg stump, the humour was swiftly replaced by black fury even greater than Smith’s against South Africa after copping a similarly rough ball-tracker verdict.
Smith’s own innings would be even more abrupt, and ended far more emphatically, a Starc-esque full inswinger trapping the veteran plumb in front to secure Madushanka a double-wicket maiden.
When Kumara, brought back into the attack, added a third when Labuschagne was adjudged to have tickled one down the leg side for a first-ball duck, the Sri Lankan comeback appeared on: DRS, though, would have a telling say.
Reviewing quickly, Labuschagne would have more luck with the referral system, the ball shown to have glanced his thigh pad rather than his bat.
Duly reprieved, Labuschagne was content to play second fiddle to the swashbuckling Marsh, who after a horror start to the World Cup was a force to behold amid the early carnage.
A ball after the overturn, Marsh unfurled a powerfully struck cut to send Madushanka, sitting on figures of 2/0 after two overs, screaming to the boundary to reassert Australian dominance.
Wellalage’s introduction was met with a trio of boundaries as the Western Australian feasted on anything remotely short; 50 was soon reached off just 39 balls, Marsh having provided Australia the rapid start they have lacked in their opening two losses this tournament – but the onslaught wouldn’t last much longer.
Untroubled by the bowling, and with a big score on the cards, the all-rounder only had himself to blame for his downfall: taking on Karunaratne’s arm with a chancy second run, Marsh was caught short by a lightning throw into Mendis’ gloves.
Facing arguably the most important innings of his fledgling international career, Inglis got off to a bright start with a cover-driven four sloppily misfielded by Sri Lankan sub – and Test captain – Dimuth Karunaratne, as he and Labuschagne settled in to see Australia home.
Renowned for his inventive strokeplay, the wicketkeeper looked more assured with every passing over, a well-controlled glide down to third man for four to continue to dent Kumara’s figures his most authoritative shot yet, though that honour lasted just three balls before mowing the paceman over mid-wicket for a colossal six.
The end of Sri Lanka’s proper resistance was summed up by an unnecessary throw from Asalanka to gift Inglis two overthrows as the Western Australian cruised to 50 off just 46 balls with a sparkling off drive.
Labuschagne, though, couldn’t reach the same milestone, tamely pulling the returning Madushanka to mid-wicket for 40 to spark renewed jitters in the Australian camp – but the arriving Maxwell still had designs on getting the team’s net run rate back towards the green.
First with a trio of boundaries off Madushanka to ruin the left-armer’s brilliant figures, then upping the ante even further with a pair of sixes to send Theekshana into the stands, Maxwell raced to 28 off just 14 balls as the chase entered its final stage.
With just 18 runs remaining, Inglis’ outstanding knock ended as he sliced a catch to backward point for a crucial 58; for Sri Lanka, though, all that did was hasten the final salvoes, Stoinis bludgeoning a pair of boundaries to bring the runs required into single digits.
One final strike would finish things off in style, Stoinis walloping Wellalage down the ground for six to seal victory – and with nearly 15 overs to spare, a timely run rate boost.
Up next is another must-win clash against Pakistan in Bengaluru on Friday night (AEDT), while Sri Lanka’s quest for a maiden victory at this tournament will continue against the Netherlands.