Eranga, who had replaced the spinner Rangana Herath, struck in his first over of international cricket when he nipped one through the gate of the out-of-form Brad Haddin (5), but it’s his next wicket that he will be more proud of. Fresh from half-centuries in the first two matches, Ricky Ponting was trying to get Australia’s chase back on track when he didn’t pick Eranga’s slower ball and was caught and bowled for 22.
The breakthrough brought smiles from the Sri Lankan dressing room, the support staff well aware that it could have been a key moment in keeping the series alive. Should Australia win, they would take the series with two matches still to play, but Upul Tharanga’s century followed by some good seam bowling meant the visitors’ task would be difficult.
Lasith Malinga began well when he found an edge from the in-form Shane Watson, who was caught at slip for 5, and when Haddin fell soon afterwards it was 18 for 2. However, after the introduction of the spinners, Clarke and Hussey worked their way into a routine and their partnership had reached 59.
Hussey was fortunate to have survived a dropped chance from the final ball of the 25th over, when he skied one off Tillakaratne Dilshan to long-on. Eranga backed back and should have taken the catch above his head, but parried the ball behind him to bounce over the boundary.
50 overs Sri Lanka 286 for 9 (Tharanga 111, Dilshan 55, Bollinger 4-42) v Australia
Upul Tharanga drove Sri Lanka to their most competitive total of the past week as they sought a victory to keep the series alive in Hambantota. Tharanga’s century helped the Sri Lankans reach 286 for 9 after they were sent in by Michael Clarke, but the total looked like being even greater until Doug Bollinger sparked a late revival from the Australians.
Bollinger finished with 4 for 42 and was the only member of the Australian attack who posed a serious threat to Sri Lanka on a pitch that offered some movement for the fast bowlers. Having reached 220 for 1, Sri Lanka then lost three wickets for 10 runs as Bollinger led Australia’s fightback, the wicket of Tharanga for 111 the key as the hosts looked to lift their run-rate in the final overs.
Mitchell Johnson picked up a couple of late wickets and Brett Lee had Chamara Silva caught at midwicket in a strange dismissal after the ball bounced off the batsman’s foot and up on to the bat. Mahela Jayawardene was out in the final over for 36, but he had done enough to ensure that for the first time in the series Sri Lanka had reached the end of the 50th over, although they were nine down as Shane Watson bowled Shaminda Eranga with the final ball.
A healthy total was on the agenda as soon as Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan survived the new ball, albeit with some luck as Bollinger, and to a lesser extent Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, beat the bat and caused a few nervous moments. The openers pushed through that period and began to score more freely once spin was introduced, Tharanga lifting Xavier Doherty confidently over mid-off for a pair of boundaries.
Both men drove well through the off side off the fast bowlers and their partnership reached 139 before Bollinger finally made the first breakthrough. Dilshan had 55 from 59 balls when he pulled a short delivery straight to Michael Hussey at deep midwicket, but Australia’s joy was to be short-lived as Kumar Sangakkara joined Tharanga in another solid stand.
Tharanga had struggled in the first two matches, after serving a three-month drug ban, but it was third time lucky as he began to find his touch. In between the edges and plays-and-misses, he nearly cleared the boundary with a strong pull off Lee and picked off runs against the part-time spin of David Hussey and Steven Smith, and reached his century from 128 deliveries.
It continued a fine year for Tharanga, who despite his suspension has made four one-day international centuries in 2011, more than any other player in the world. He also passed 4000 ODI runs and was the fastest Sri Lankan to reach the milestone, doing it in four fewer innings than the previous record-holder, Marvan Atapattu.
Eventually Tharanga fell to Bollinger when he tried to glide a ball to third man but only succeeded in steering a catch to Brad Haddin, but he had given Sri Lanka a terrific platform. Tharanga was the third wicket in ten deliveries for Bollinger, who had picked up Sangakkara (49 off 37 balls) lbw and the out-of-form Dinesh Chandimal, who was well snared at slip by Michael Clarke for 4.
It was a fine take from Australia’s captain, who will need to be just as impressive with the bat if his team is to make it 3-0. The pitch is good enough, but whether Australia’s batsmen are remains to be seen.