Australia's Pat Cummins
Australia's Pat Cummins celebrates taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Nuwan Pradeep to win the match Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Full marks to Australia. The defending champions once again proved why they are such a difficult team to beat, winning once again from a seemingly losing position. Australian captain Aaron Finch deserves all the credit for changing the course of the game in his team’s favour. No, I am not talking about his century earlier in the day, but it is his captaincy that made all the difference.

The turning point to the tight contest came between the 23rd and 32nd over of Sri Lanka’s chase, precisely the time when Australia picked two wickets, but more importantly restricted the flow of runs, virtually choking the rivals by placing fielders close to the bat and not allowing them to rotate the strike and maintain the momentum.

The Sri Lankans managed to score a mere 33 runs in eight overs, which brought the run rate down drastically. The pressure created after the fall of Kusal Perera led to the dismissal of Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne, whose battling knock of 97 came to an agonising end, falling three runs short of a well-deserved century.

The Sri Lankans never recovered from the twin blow and kept losing wickets at regular intervals, from being 154 for one to 222 for seven in just 13 overs. At the midway mark, the 1996 champions were well on course to stun Australia, whom the Arjuna Ranatunga team defeated in the final at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, but lost their way and suffered a big loss.

The 87-run defeat does not actually reflect the true picture of Sri Lanka’s gallant show, the run graph at the 25-over mark showing them way ahead of Australia’s scoring pattern. Mitchell Starc for the third match in a row claimed two wickets in one over to finish with four-wicket haul. Though it was not a decisive blow, nevertheless it hastened Sri Lanka’s end.

Unfortunately, the islanders dominated the early part of both the innings, but drifted away in the latter and the crucial period of the game. While Australia batted, they restricted David Warner and Aaron Finch to under five an over but the Australian captain, in the company of Steve Smith, swelled the total before Glenn Maxwell gave the finishing touches to give Sri Lanka a stiff target to chase.

The Sri Lankans were gamely in the chase, but it was a chance missed for Karunaratne’s team to boost their confidence for the games ahead.