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  • Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Brisbane

Sri Lanka edge out Australia

The Report by Andrew Fernando
January 18, 2013 « Keane: Rooney has taken his last penalty for United | Chartbeat test »
Sri Lanka 75 for 6 (K Perera 22*, Johnson 3-11) beat Australia 74 (Starc 22*, Kulasekara 5-22, Malinga 3-14) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Nuwan Kulasekara destroyed Australia with lethal inswing © Getty Images
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A fearsome spell of inswing bowling from Nuwan Kulasekara was the definitive performance in a bizarre third ODI at the Gabba, where both captains would have batted first, but 100 may have been a winning total. Kulasekara took a career-best 5 for 22 as he damned Australia to 74 all out, with the aid of Lasith Malinga, who tore down the tail.

Sri Lanka's run chase shaped as a straightforward one, but they lost six wickets before they reached their target, meaning 16 wickets had been lost in the day for 149 runs. Had Australia held early chances off Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lahiru Thirimanne, they may have won early the momentum to spark a heavier collapse, but instead the visitors limped home in the 20th over, with their last recognised batting pair at the crease.

Having rested several key players for the first two matches, Australia returned to near-full strength at Brisbane, with Michael Clarke, David Warner and Matthew Wade arriving to bolster the batting, but none of them could make it to double figures. In fact, only the last pair of Mitchell Starc and Xavier Doherty did.

The captains shared the opinion that the pitch was full of runs at the toss, but both men seem to have underestimated the effect of Brisbane's humidity. It was in the air that Kulasekara won the battle, not off the pitch. Few batsmen are equipped to negate the amount of movement he achieved, particularly in the middle of his spell, but the lateness of Kulasekara's inswing made him almost unplayable, and Australia will perhaps feel there is little they could have done better to counter bowling of that quality.

The deliveries that bowled Clarke and Moises Henriques began about a metre outside off stump, and only began to move around halfway down the pitch, when the batsmen were already committed to the stroke. Both men played for big inswing, but as the ball swerved hard at the stumps like a snake suddenly smelling prey, they still had their inside edges passed and their woodwork rattled. George Bailey had made a similar mistake first ball, only he had offered no stroke to a delivery he believed to be passing safely outside off stump, and it struck him flush on the front pad and would have hit middle and off.

Sri Lanka's bowlers only mustered modest swing to begin with, but Angelo Mathews used a little extra bounce to dismiss Warner, who holed out to mid on playing a cross-batted stroke that was ill-judged in any case. Warner had been among the runs during the Test leg of the tour, and the manner of his dismissal in Brisbane may add heat to the debate about Australia's rotation policy, and whether batsmen are being done a disservice by being rested when they are in form.

Kulasekara worked himself into a honeyed rhythm after that dismissal, and by the 12th over, had embarrassed Australia's first-choice team. His first two scalps were the result of fine catching as well as great bowling, as Jayawardene held on to a tough chance off Phillip Hughes' bat at third slip, before wicketkeeper Kushal Perera dove to his left to snaffle David Hussey's inside edge.

Malinga also found movement in the air when he came into the attack at 30 for 6, and removed Mitchell Johnson with an outswinging yorker in his second over, before taking a wicket in each of his two next overs.

Doherty was circumspect at the crease to begin with, leaving the strokemaking to Starc, who was intent on making the best of a bad situation, and the pair rode their luck for eight overs, before Shaminda Eranga ended the innings with a slower ball. Had they survived five more overs together, it may have been their side that took the series lead.

Dilshan's innings of 22 was populated almost exclusively by booming drives, most of which failed to make contact - many by quite a distance. Faced with a small target and difficult conditions, Sri Lanka's batsmen appeared to have opted for a hyper-aggressive approach, reasoning that if just one of them came off, victory would come easy.

However at 37 for 4, that strategy had only delivered them jitters and handed the opposition momentum. Kushal Perera and Upul Tharanga chose then to reserve their belligerence only for the poor deliveries, and in a match where even minuscule contributions with the bat were invaluable, two wicketless overs before the tea break eased Sri Lanka's nerves, and three quick boundaries after resumptions hurtled them close to safety. Starc picked up two more scalps before Sri Lanka reached their target, but with so few to get, neither breakthrough gave rise to real hope of a famous win.

The action moves to the SCG now, where Sri Lanka have flourished in ODIs, and the visitors will hope to wrap up the series there, and maintain their dominance of Australia in their own conditions in recent years.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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