By Shehan Daniel
So rare have the opportunities been for Sri Lanka to record a home ODI series win over Australia, that victory in today’s fourth ODI will give the hosts a first bilateral series triumph over their opponents in almost 30 years.
Since their last series win in 1992, under the captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka have lost all three ODI series against a touring Australian side, but it is a run that the home team, with a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, will have two opportunities to end.
Sunday’s emphatic six-wicket win was marshaled by a superb century from opener Pathum Nissanka, who anchored down and played the long game, on a pitch that appeared to be slow but by no means impossible to bat on.
There was some concern after the match, with Nissanka and Kusal Mendis showing signs of injury, but it is understood that it would not be a hindrance to either featuring in today’s game.
“Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis are available to play,” a source familiar with the players’ fitness told the Daily Mirror, adding that the latter had suffered from cramps despite appearing to have picked up something worse when he was carried off the field.
Significant in Sri Lanka’s two wins was that it was achieved without their premier limited overs bowler Wanindu Hasaranga, diagnosed with a groin strain following the first ODI in Pallekele.
Hasaranga remains doubtful, although not completely ruled out of the series, but signs are positive.
“He has recovered better than we expected, but hasn’t yet been cleared to play,” the same source told the Daily Mirror.
In Hasaranga’s absence, Jeffrey Vandersay has become Sri Lanka’s leg spin bowling option, and the 32-year old was particularly impressive in the third ODI, conceding 49 runs in his 10 overs and picking up the wickets of Marnus Labuschagne, Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell.
Danushka Gunathilaka was a last minute omission ahead of the third ODI with a groin injury, wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella taking over the opener’s slot.
And while his innings lasted just 26 deliveries, the pace at which Dickwella scored his 25 runs complimented Nissanka’s anchor role, having also relieved Mendis of his wicket-keeping duties – perhaps an important consideration to ensure Mendis’ longevity as a batsman.
“Niroshan Dickwella and I wanted to make the best use of the Powerplay overs and then with Kusal Mendis, we just wanted to bat until the 35th over so that it would be easier for the batsmen who followed,” Nissanka said after the six-wicket win.
“I know my role in the team, and I am in a good space, mentally, to perform that role,” Nissanka added.
While the batting was almost flawless on Sunday, the hosts’ bowling in the last ten overs betrayed the good work that preceded it – an area of concern for the Sri Lankans.
Australia scored at 9.8 runs an over in the last ten overs after managing a little under 5 runs per over in the 40 overs before, with extra wickets in hand proving useful to the visitors.
The most expensive of those final ten overs was the 49th over bowled Dunith Wellalage, going for 21 runs, though the youngster should be commended for his bravery in accepting the responsibility of bowling at that stage. It was one of the few bad decisions made by captain Dasun Shanaka, who also did not properly utilize the full ten-over quota available to his main fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera.
Photo: Pathum Nissanka scored his maiden ODI century in Sri Lanka’s six-wicket win on Sunday (Photo courtesy Sri Lanka Cricket)