Aaron Finch’s century, followed by Travis Head’s finishing skills, helped Australia warm-up for the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy with a tense two-wicket victory over a spirited Sri Lanka at The Oval on Friday (May 26).
Batting first, Sri Lanka posted a competitive 318 for 7 in 50 overs after Angelo Mathews (95 off 106) and Asela Gunaratne (70* off 56) made half-centuries. Finch then smashed a 109-ball 137 before Head hit a crucial, unbeaten 85 off 73 as Australia crossed the line with two balls to spare, scoring 319 for 8 in 49.4 overs.
After being put in to bat, Sri Lanka got off to a brisk start, Niroshan Dickwella leading the way with a 30-ball 41. Dickwella’s quick start meant although Upul Tharanga fell to Josh Hazlewood for 13, Sri Lanka managed 60 runs in the first nine overs.
However, the arrival of Moises Henriques triggered a turnaround as he got both Dickwella and Kusal Mendis in successive overs. And when James Pattinson got Dinesh Chandimal for 17, Sri Lanka seemed in trouble at 92 for 4 in the 17th over.
That is when the experience of Angelo Mathews stood out, as he revived the innings along with Chamara Kapugedera. The pair added 60 for the sixth wicket before the latter fell, giving a return catch to Head.
But Mathews continued and went past his half-century with an able Gunaratne for company. While Mathews shifted gears by taking on Adam Zampa and Henriques, Gunaratne settled in. And once Mathews fell five short of a century, Gunaratne took charge and helped Sri Lanka up the ante with some quick scoring.
Keeping Gunaratne good company in the slog overs was Seekkuge Prasanna, who himself played a handy cameo of 31 from 19 balls. With Gunaratne crossing his half-century and remaining unbeaten on 70, Sri Lanka added 110 runs in the last ten overs to go past 300.
Australia lost David Warner for a 32-ball 19 to Nuwan Pradeep but by then, Finch had already taken the side past 64 in 11 overs. It set the pattern for the next phase of the chase as Finch dominated partnerships.
Chris Lynn and Moises Henriques, the next two Australian batsmen, managed just 29 runs between them but Finch more than made up for that with a flurry of boundaries. He found the fence at will and with rapid frequency, helping Australia stay on par with the required run-rate.
Even when Henriques fell run-out in the 24th over, Australia had already amassed 143 runs with Finch scoring 91 of those.
Henriques’s exit led to a strong fourth-wicket stand between Finch and Head which put Australia on track in the middle overs. With Head giving steady support, Finch continued his aggressive ways and the duo added 75 runs together.
But just when the partnership seemed set to take Australia home, Pradeep got Finch and Glenn Maxwell off successive balls to keep Sri Lanka in the game. Lasith Malinga soon bowled Matthew Wade, leaving Australia 76 to get off the last ten overs with only four wickets in hand.
Fortunately for Australia, it had a well-set Head in the middle to play the finisher’s role. Marcus Stoinis chipped in with 15 but once he fell in the 45th over, Head took it upon himself.
Sri Lanka kept fighting and took the game deep, but once the equation came down to 13 off the last two overs, it was Australia’s game.