Kusal Mendis rediscovered his sublime touch as Sri Lanka’s misfiring batting order belatedly emerged from Australia’s stranglehold with a consolation five-wicket victory at the MCG to avoid a series whitewash.
Chasing 155 in the fifth and final match, Sri Lanka were wobbling at 71 for 4 after all-too familiar sloppy dismissals before Mendis combined with skipper Dasun Shanaka in a match-winning 83-run partnership to provide the visitors with a confidence boost in Australian conditions ahead of a looming T20 World Cup.
It was a deserved victory for Sri Lanka, who have tried hard in the series only to rue inconsistency as they snapped an eight match T20I losing streak in Australia. Australia’s attempts at a first 5-0 T20I series victory were thwarted in their final match of the home summer.
With a 5.10pm local start, two hours earlier than usual, the family friendlier time slot reeled in 17,556 fans – compared to 13,000 who attended the MCG on Friday – in the highest attendance of the series.
Even though they lost in-form Pathum Nissanka and debutant Kamil Mishara early, Sri Lanka were all guns blazing and it paid dividends as they smashed their best powerplay of the series yielding 54 runs.
Charith Asalanka started sublimely until a ham-fisted execution of a premediated scoop against Ashton Agar’s first delivery ended a promising knock. It put the pressure on opener Mendis, who was up to the task as he notched his first T20I half-century since September 2019. He found support through Shanaka who impressively targeted star spinner Adam Zampa down the ground. It came down to the last over with Sri Lanka favoured needing nine runs and Shanaka effectively sealed the result with a huge six over deep square leg. He fell next ball with Sri Lanka needing one run with two balls left but Chamika Karunaratne held his nerve to ensure the tourists tasted victory.
A firing Mendis noticeably strengthens Sri Lanka’s batting and looms as their key batter at the T20 World Cup. The 27-year-old missed the opening two matches due to Covid-19 having returned from a lengthy suspension for a Covid breach during Sri Lanka’s tour of the UK in the middle of last year.
As he showed here, Mendis is more than capable of conjuring match-winning knocks under pressure.
It was a complete performance for Sri Lanka, whose attack has mostly impressed and numerously put Australia under pressure during the series.
They did so again in the finale, even without star allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga and quick Binura Fernando, to leave Australia in trouble at 55 for 3 at the halfway mark. Bowling at sharp speeds of 90mph/145kph, Dushmantha Chameera conjured menacing bounce, which accounted for in-form Josh Inglis who gloved a venomous short ball before it cannoned into his helmet.
It was a fiery Chameera’s best performance of an encouraging series, which yielded seven wickets, as he relished quicker Australian conditions in a sign of what could be ahead later in the year. Sri Lanka should feel like they can inflict damage at the T20 World Cup with an attack well equipped for Australian conditions. Australia have experimented with their batting this series, but the trialling of spinning allrounder Agar as a pinch-hitting opener ended after two matches.
Skipper Aaron Finch returned to the top but his form drought continued when he fell for 8 in his sixth single digit score in the last eight T20I matches. Fellow opener Ben McDermott too failed and has fallen away since a half-century in the opening match in a disappointment for the recently minted BBL MVP. Cricinfo