ASELA GUNARATNE – remember that name. A one-man Sri Lankan rescue effort turned Australia in to Twenty20 also-rans as Asela Gunarate smashed 37 runs in the final two overs to hand his team a miraculous victory in Geelong on Sunday. The right-hander, who was also the hero at the MCG on Friday night, took 22 off Moises Henriques in the penultimate over then 18 off AJ Tye as Sri Lanka took a 2-0 lead in the series.
Victory looked improbable for the tourists when Tye was on a hat-trick early and the Sri Lankan top order crumbled under the pace of 20-year-old West Australian Jhye Richardson, the first Jhye to play for Australia.
Chasing Australia’s 173 all out Sri Lanka lost five wickets within five overs to put the slows on a run chase that was all brave and boorish at the same time.
The tourists tried to deal only in boundaries early and while it didn’t work then, it proved the path to victory.
Gunaratne was finding the rope regularly but his efforts seemed in vain when his team needed 36 off the final two overs to win.
But he would not be denied, smashing three sixes in a row off Henriques and three more boundaries in the final over to get to 84 not out, off just 46 balls, to guide his team home to a memorable maiden international game in Geelong.
“I thought we were playing nicely there but credit to Gararatne, he played a hell of an innings,” Australian captain Aaron Finch said.
“Geez he hit some clean … that’s as good a striking as you will see. For a guy to be able to hit over fine leg and mid-off, that’s a rare skill. He hasn’t mis-hit a ball in two games now.
“There were a couple of really short pockets and they exposed them really well. Full credit to the Sri Lankans but we feel like we slightly mis executed there.
“With the wicket I thought we had enough runs, but with the dimensions of the ground it was hard to know.
“When you have got a guy who is in like that it’s so hard to defend.”
It was a smidge over 13C, and about 11000 people were rugged up inside Simonds Stadium as local hero Finch strode out to open for the Aussies last night.
The lad from Colac, about 75kms down the road, was last in Geelong in November, playing just over the other side of the Ford stand when he knocked up 39 in club cricket.
This time he was the Australian skipper, and asserted his early authority by smacking the first boundary in international cricket on the ground, through cover to the shortish rope. Another came in the next over, but he was gone four balls later, which allowed big-hitting Ben Dunk to the crease.
Dunk, who outscored Finch, and everyone else in the Big Bash, got to take his belated place in the national line-up after initially being overlooked for the team. And he didn’t disappoint.
He’s been playing club cricket too, but was more recently, unable to get in to the Tasmanian Shield team. But Dunk (32 off 14 balls) showed little white-ball rustiness and went whack, whack, with back-to-back sixes off Sri Lankan off-spinner Munaweera. Dunk took 22 off the over, the bowler’s only one, as the Aussies powered to 1/60 off the power play.
But when Dunk was out to the, let’s say medium pace spinners of Gunaratne, he’s not quite the “fast medium” of his Cricinfo profile, the boundary onslaught went with him.
Opener Michael Klinger, still at the crease, and Moises Henriques couldn’t find the ropes for four overs. They could see them, so close, but couldn’t get the ball there.
They each hit a six in the 11th over, but it was the exception rather than the rule.
Only Henriques, who finished not out on 56, did any real damage after Dunk and then Klinger (43 off 37) went, as a muddling middle-order racked up a stack of single figure scores with wickets falling quickly, including three in a calamitous final over as Nulan Kulasekera cleaned up the tail.
The final seven Aussie batsmen scored just 22 between them and Australia just managed to better Friday night’s score, netting 173.
With boundaries that seemed reachable by a good sized throw in parts, it seemed short of enough, and so it was.