Australian captain Aaron Finch smashed his way to a tournament-best century against Sri Lanka at the Oval in London earlier today to power his side to the top of the ten-team table.
And his opposite number, Dimuth Karunaratne, fell just three runs short of his own century but his side failed to capitalise on a good start to lose by 87 runs.
Finch’s 153 would have been enough on its own to beat bottom-of-the-table Afghanistan, who went under to South Africa by nine wickets in Cardiff, their 11 batsmen managing no more than 125.
At the Oval, on a day when innings generally failed to deliver on their promise, Man-of-the-Match Finch took top billing, with Mitchell Starc Glenn, Glenn Maxwell and Karunaratne as his co-stars. In a fine display of clean power-hitting, the Aussie captain and opener blasted five sixes and 15 fours to equal the 153 Jason Roy scored for England against Bangladesh on 8 June.
Finch produced some clean, crisp drives on the ground but often in the air. At one point, he and his partner took 21 runs off one over from off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva (2/40), all but the third ball going for boundaries.
Asked to bat first, he and David Warner went steadily to 80 off 16.4 overs before the left-hander, once more seeming to lack his usual fluency, departed for 26. Uncharacteristically, he needed 48 balls to get that far.
After Usman Khawaja laboured over an unconvincing 20-ball 10, Steve Smith (73 off 59, 7 x 4, 1 x 6) and Finch added a rapid 173 off just 20 overs.
From 273 for 3, Maxwell contributed five fours and a six to finish unbeaten on 46. But the momentum fell away and the innings ended on 334 for 7, undermined by two fine pieces of athleticism by Isuru Udana (10-0-57-2), The left-handed medium-pacer accounted for both Alex Carey and Pat Cummings with direct hits off his own bowling.
Meanwhile in Cardiff, the long-standing opening pair of Quinton de Kock (68 off 72, 8 x 4) and Hashim Amla (41 off 83, 4 x 4) put together a partnership of 104 in 23 overs to see their team almost home. And then Andile Phehlukwayo (17* off 17) joined Amla to take the score to 131 for 1, four more than the DLS adjusted target.
That put the finishing touches to a much-needed win with just over 21 overs to spare.
The Sri Lankans began very well in pursuit of Australia’s challenging total. Openers Karunaratne (97 off 108, 9 x 4) and Kusal Perera (52 off 36, 5 x 4, 1 x 6) raced to 100 off less than 13 overs, making the unenviable task of overhauling the 300-plus target much less of a challenge.
They treated Australia’s much-vaunted pace attack of Starc and Pat Cummins (2/38) with complete disrespect, blasting boundaries off them seemingly at will.
But Maxwell produced a very disciplined spell of off-spin bowling to put the brakes on the rampant Sri Lankans. And once Starc (4/55) breached Perera’s defences at 115 with a delivery that straightened to hit middle stumps, the innings went into steady decline.
At 186 for 2, Karunaratne himself cut Kane Richardson (3/47) into Maxwell’s safe hands at backward point and that was the signal for surrender.
Only Kusal Mendis (30 off 37) showed any sign of fight after that, the last seven wickets falling for a mere 61 runs.
Given first strike in Cardiff, the Afghans had not always looked like they would be outclassed. The first two wickets fell at 39 and 56 respectively before the innings subsided meekly. From 69 for three, they slipped to 77 for 7.
After that, the scorecard was a sorry sight indeed. Without the openers and Rashid Khan (35 off 25), it resembled a near-perfect T&T cell phone number: 6, 8, 0, 1, 9, 5, 0, 0.
Man-of-the-Match Imran Tahir finished with figures of 7-0-29-4, Chris Morris claimed 3/13 and Phehlukwayo 2/18.
For Jason Holder’s West Indies, that Cardiff result is of little importance since the Gulbadin Naib-led Afghans are still to open their account and Faf du Plessis’ South Africans now have a mere three points. Interestingly, after five completed games, they are in exactly the same position as Imran Khan’s Pakistan were in 1992 when they won the World Cup: 3 losses, 1 NR and 1 win.
Sri Lanka’s defeat, however, means that they remain in fifth place with an unchanged points tally. Should the WI get past Masrafe Mortaza’s Bangladesh in Tuesday’s match-up in Taunton, they would then leapfrog the Sri Lankans (4 pts) to claim fifth spot, behind fourth-placed England, who have completed one game less.
Or behind India, should Pakistan surprise them in today’s mega match-up.
But injuries may affect the WI chances of avenging the three defeats suffered at the hands of the Bangladeshis in the tri-series in Ireland prior to the start of the World Cup.
Fast-bowler Shannon Gabriel has question marks hanging over his fitness, having left the field after completing only seven of his allotted ten overs. But Gabriel is much less pivotal to Holder’s plans than is all-rounder Andre Russell, who was only able to bowl two overs in Friday’s loss against England.
News coming from the West Indies captain is that the WI “think he can be a match-winner for us [so we] have to do everything we possibly can to keep him in the park.”
Against England on Friday, the perhaps 80%-fit power-hitter surrendered his wicket in a futile and ill-advised attempt to clear the fielder at deep midwicket on the longest part of the ground.
There will be no room for surrender on Monday. Currently in eighth spot with three points, the Bangladeshis also have their eyes on fifth spot, just a point shy of the top four.
For that, they too need a win—and are doubtless determined to get it!