His century partnership with Mendis was the highlight of Sri Lanka’s record chase against Australia.
Pathum Nissanka’s maiden ODI century and Kusal Mendis’ fast-paced innings, which was only cut short by what appeared to be cramp, capped a record Sri Lanka chase against Australia, giving them a 2-1 series advantage with two games remaining.
Nissanka and Mendis put up 170 for the second wicket before Mendis, who could barely walk, had to leave the crease after receiving treatment in the previous overs. Dhananjaya de Silva, on the other hand, assuaged any fears that Sri Lanka’s progress would be halted, while Nissanka resumed his pace after reaching three figures from 123 deliveries to finish with Sri Lanka’s highest individual score against Australia.
Sri Lanka’s chase, which was completed with nine balls to spare, belied what appeared to be a competitive total from Australia, who overcame mid-innings spin difficulties to take 98 from the final 10 overs, mostly thanks to Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell.
However, there was a significant difference between the two sets of spinners in the second half of the game: where Jeffrey Vandersay, Maheesh Theekshana, and, until an expensive final over, 19-year-old Dunith Wellalage were outstanding, Australia’s combination of Maxwell, Matthew Kuhnemann, and Marnus Labuschagne did not pose the same threat.
Mitchell Swepson, Australia’s specialist legspinner, was left out as the side was rebalanced, with Cameron Green batting at No. 8 and Pat Cummins resting. Mitchell Marsh, who was filling in for the injured Steven Smith due to a calf injury, did not bowl.
Niroshan Dickwella, who replaced Danushka Gunathilaka at the top of the order, got the pursuit off to a fast start until missing a straight delivery from Maxwell two balls after being dropped by Marsh, who spilt a routine chance at midwicket.
It was all about the second-wicket duo from then on. Mendis has a lot of experience but hasn’t consistently delivered on his immense skill, but at 27, he still has time to change that, whilst Nissanka is still making his way in a career that has shown flashes of greatness.
Mendis was the more free-flowing player early on, with a few of particularly nice drives against Green, but Nissanka held his nerve. The pair kept the scoreboard ticking with plenty of ones and twos while intelligently respecting good deliveries, which is a common critique of Sri Lanka’s white-ball batting.
When Nissanka advanced at Josh Hazlewood and dispatched him over deep midwicket for six, it was one of the best shots of the innings. The chase was just halfway over at that moment, but Sri Lanka had the upper hand and would never surrender it.
Following Aaron Finch’s decision to bat, David Warner was dismissed early after top-edging a pull. When Marsh drove in the air to cover, it was the 19-year-old Wellalage who broke through. His poise in all aspects has stood out in his rookie series. His opening six-over spell cost only 16 runs and was vital in putting Australia’s top order under strain.
Between the 10th and 20th overs, there were just two boundaries, the second of which came when Finch briefly broke the chains by bowling Vandersay over long-on. Finch’s tenacious fifty came from 68 balls as he and Labuschagne constructed a platform, but it was soon shattered.
“Finch was given a life on 38 when de Silva missed a sharp edge at slip. Vandersay’s early overs had generated threat but little reward; Finch was granted a life on 38 when de Silva missed a crisp edge at slip.
When the batter stretched out of his crease, a beautiful legbreak to Labuschagne changed everything, and Finch edged another sharply-turning delivery that was brilliantly saved, one-handed to his right, as de Silva made apologies at slip.”
To begin the rebuild, Head and Alex Carey played cautiously: following Carey’s straight six in the 30th over, there was an eight-over gap without a boundary. Carey then began to pick up the pace, taking Theekshana for the only four runs of his spell, but was bowled lbw sweeping, one run short of his half-century.
Then came Maxwell, who put on a brief but exhilarating show, unleashing a complete variety of strokes before being beautifully caught by Wellalage sprinting back from mid-on, giving Vandersay his third wicket. Head, who had transferred his form from the top of the order to the middle, reached fifty with a late flurry of sixes, but a superbly-constructed chase put that out of reach, leaving Sri Lanka with a significant series victory.