Steered by Alex Carey, Australia overcame a bad start and a challenging pitch to beat Sri Lanka by four wickets in the final ODI.
Chasing 161 on a Colombo wicket offering extravagant turn and some bounce, Carey (an unbeaten 45 off 65 balls), played a patient and important innings, sweeping well, as Australia reached their target with 10.3 overs to spare on Friday. Sri Lanka had clinched the five-match series in the fourth game, but the loss narrowed the final score to 3-2.
The hosts lost their first two wickets for 12 inside the fifth over and Australia started even worse, slipping to 19-3 after 5.2. Marnus Labuschagne (31 off 58) and Mitch Marsh (24 off 50) started the recovery, adding 31.
Carey and Labuschagne (31 off 58) put on 51 for the fifth wicket before the latter was trapped lbw by impressive 19-year-old left arm spinner Dunith Wellalage (three for 42 off 10). The first score of their stand was a four, but it didn not contain another boundary as they took few risks and skilfully manoeuvred the ball for singles rather than play risky shots.
Australia went 94 balls without a boundary before Glenn Maxwell (16 off 17) broke the drought with fours in successive overs. However, Maxwell was cleaned up by a superb turning delivery from Wellalage to leave Australia at 121-6 after 32 overs. Carey and Cameron Green (25 not out off 26) steered Australia to victory with a breezy partnership, the latter ending the game with a six.
Australia struggled to deal with off spinner Maheesh Theekshana (two for 26 off 10) as he extracted significant turn and bounce with the new ball. The home team appealed on numerous occasions, but used up all their reviews inside 11 overs.
Australian captain Aaron Finch was caught for a duck in the second over after gloving an attempted sweep off spinner Maheesh Theekshana to slip. David Warner, who struck two boundaries in the first over, fell for 10 to a brilliant diving catch at mid-off from Danushka Gunathilaka. Debutant Josh Inglis, who came in for the injured Travis Head, hit one sublime boundary before being caught at leg slip off a Theekshana ball that turned and bounced.
Earlier, Sri Lanka had produced their worst batting effort of the series, dismissed for 160 off 43.1 overs after winning the toss. They had lost eight wickets by the halfway stage and Australia’s dominance was underlined by the rare sight in an ODI of three close fielders surrounding the bat.
They slumped to 62-7, but eighth- and ninth-wicket partnerships of 23 and 58, respectively, ensured they avoided the ignominy of not reaching three figures.
Chamika Karunaratne, who had a previous best ODI score of 44, displayed admirable resistance, scoring 75 off as many balls. Coming in at No 8, he struck two sixes off Labuschagne and added eight fours before he was dismissed to end the innings.
Frontline pacemen Josh Hazlewood (two for 22 off seven overs), Pat Cummins (two for 22 off 6.1) and spinner Matthew Kuhnemann (two for 26 off 10) bowled well and were assisted by some smart fielding and rash shots. Hazlewood whipped out both openers inside the first five overs, but it was a middle-order collapse of 4-6 in the space of eight balls that unhinged the home team’s innings.
The hosts’ supporters showed their appreciation of Australia with many of those attending wearing a yellow shirt and others bringing banners thanking the visitors for touring their country.