Top-order batsmen come through spin test with half-centuries to build on bowling heroics of Faulkner, Starc
Aaron Finch and Steven Smith hit fifties to help Australia navigate a tricky chase and defeat a determined Sri Lanka by three wickets in the first One-Day International in Colombo on Sunday (August 21).
Australia, which endured its first series whitewash against the home side in the preceding three-Test series, needed 46.5 overs to chase down Sri Lanka’s 227 for 8 at the R Premadasa Stadium to go 1-0 up in the five-match series.
That Sri Lanka was restricted to a total below 250 was thanks to James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc, who became the fastest to reach 100 wickets in his 52nd match. The two left-arm pacemen shared seven wickets between them after Australia opted to bowl.
Finch (56) gave Australia a brisk start despite the early wicket of David Warner (8). He took on Sri Lanka's bowlers, regularly clearing the infield with seven fours and two sixes during his 46-ball knock.
But, after Finch brought up his 12th ODI half-century, he fell to Amila Aponso, the debutant left-arm spinner, edging the ball to Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka skipper, at first slip.
However, Mathews wasn't able to hold on to a sharp chance at slip, giving Smith a reprieve at 15 off Dilruwan Perera, and the batsman made the most of it.
Sri Lanka then struck again when Lakshan Sandakan, another debutant spinner, got his maiden ODI wicket in Matthew Wade, who had worked hard for his 26 which came off 34 deliveries.
But Smith was not so easily flustered. He top-scored with a dogged 58, putting on a 62-run partnership with George Bailey (39) to keep Sri Lanka's spinners at bay on a slow pitch which was taking turn.
Dilruwan, the offspinner who ended with three wickets, got Smith in the 38th over with Australia needing another 38 to win the match.
There was another twist as the visiting side lost three more wickets, but bowling heroes Starc, on five, and Faulkner, also on five, remained unbeaten as Australia registered its highest ODI run chase in Sri Lanka.
Earlier Starc, who took three wickets, struck with the fourth ball of the innings to have Kusal Perera trudging back to the pavilion for one.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, the veteran batsman, and Mendis, who scored 67, then came together for a 42-run second-wicket partnership to steady the innings. Dilshan fell for 22 but Mendis registered his fourth half-century in only his eighth ODI.
Mendis, 21, got good support from Dinesh Chandimal, who scored an unbeaten 80, as the pair put together a 79-run third-wicket stand to help Sri Lanka rebuild.
But a double strike by Faulkner in the 30th over kept Sri Lanka in check after Mendis and Mathews were dismissed in the space of three deliveries.
Starc returned with another wicket-taking spell to send Dhananjaya de Silva back to the pavilion and claim his 100th wicket. The left-armer broke a 19-year-old record set by Saqlain Mushtaq, the Pakistan offspinner who claimed 100 wickets in his 53rd ODI.
Although Chandimal kept his focus to register his fifth consecutive ODI half-century after scoring four on the England tour, Faulkner took two more wickets to slow Sri Lanka down and finish with career-best ODI figures of 4 for 38.