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Sri Lanka’s quicks help level the series as Australia lose 5 for 19

Sri Lanka 220 for 9 (Mendis 36, de Silva 34, Shanaka 34, Cummins 4-35) beat Australia 189 (Karunaratne 3-47) by 26 runs (DLS method)

The bowlers ruled all day on a slow Pallekele pitch, but in the end Sri Lanka’s bowlers ruled harder.

Australia were chasing 216 in 43 overs after rain curtailed the first innings. They only got to 189. Sri Lanka’s spinners were big threats on a big-spinning surface – Dhananjaya de Silva claiming the first two dismissals with his offspin, before Dunith Wellalage took vital middle order wickets later on.

But their quicks were major contributors as well. Dushmantha Chameera took 2 for 19 from his 6.1 overs, deservedly bowling the delivery that won Sri Lanka the match. Chamika Karunaratne was far more expensive, conceding 47 from seven overs, but took three wickets, including the vital one of Glenn Maxwell.

While we’re on bowlers, though, Pat Cummins was probably the best on show, weaponising his slower ball to take 4 for 35 from his 8.4 overs. Maxwell and debutant left-arm spinner Matthew Kuhnemann, took two wickets apiece.

The batters? On this track, they didn’t do a lot. The highest score of the match was David Warner’s 37. The highest partnership for either team was the 61-run stand between de Silva and Kusal Mendis for the third wicket. Australia didn’t have one stand that got to 40. This is after they’d won the toss and chosen to bowl, by the way, perhaps buoyed by their win in the first ODI, or maybe by the theory that chasing teams have an edge in rain-hit matches, as this was always bound to be.

But Sri Lanka’s bowlers kept their nerve. de Silva was excellent through the early overs, Maheesh Theekshana and Jeffrey Vandersay got substantial turn through the middle (even if neither of them took a wicket). Although this wasn’t a classic spin-bowling strangle, Sri Lanka’s quicks came through to close out the match, as Wellalage also made important strikes. A packed Pallekele crowd flew into ecstasy as Chameera delivered the winning delivery, which burst through Kuhnemann’s defenses and clipped the top of middle stump.

Although Warner had earlier hit 37, and Steven Smith 28 – while also appearing to tweak a leg muscle – it was Maxwell that Sri Lanka were perhaps most worried about, after he’d taken the first game away from them on Tuesday. At one stage, it seemed as if he would cruise it, especially as Australia’s required rate never climbed much above a run-a-ball. By the end of the 34th over, Maxwell had hit 26 off 23, and Australia needed 56 off 54 balls. He’d hit a four to start that over, but then Karunaratne went short two balls later, and had Maxwell top edge one high, to be caught by cover shuffling across.

When Alex Carey was run out not long after that Maxwell dismissal – Karunaratne racing after the ball from his follow through into midwicket – Australia had lost all their recognised batters, and Sri Lanka were in the hunt for a victory. Chameera’s pace helped blast out the lower order, even on this slugglish surface.

Earlier, Cummins had rocked it with the ball. He’d taken wickets with the new ball, through the middle overs, and then at the death, using his various cutters and slower balls to excellent effect. Debutant left-arm-spinner Kuhnemmann took 2 for 48, while Maxwell returned even better figures, claiming 2 for 35 from his full quota. Legspinner Mitchell Swepson claimed one scalp too. Together, they never really let Sri Lanka’s innings hit its straps, outside of that 61-run third wicket stand.

Although their bowlers have made a habit of bailing them out, Sri Lanka’s batters may perhaps reflect that they needn’t have been so aggressive on such a bowler-friendly track. Six of Sri Lanka’s top seven were out attempting to play expansive strokes, and seemed not to trust their defense even against Australia’s relatively inexperienced spinners.

Aside from Mendis, two others breached the 30s – de Silva making 34 off 41, and Dasun Shanaka hitting 34 off 36.

In fact, no batter in either top seven failed to reach double figures. Everyone found survival tough, though. And Sri Lanka’s bowlers took better advantage of a dry pitch, even if the balls they were using were slightly damp on account of the rain that had fallen.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf


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