Some Sri Lankan flags made the Dubai International Stadium colourful. Their team flattered to deceive.
From the tournament’s perspective though, the biggest takeaway from this game was David Warner. Big tournaments need big players to shine. A big knock from the Australian opener was long overdue. When it came, it won the game for Australia, much to Sri Lanka’s chagrin.
Sunrisers Hyderabad had frozen him out halfway into the IPL. Warner probably needed a team atmosphere where he wasn’t left out. His half-century was timely and his stroke-play gorgeous.
Going through an elongated lean patch, Warner needed some luck. It duly arrived when he was on 18, wicketkeeper Kusal Perera grassing a dolly off Dushmantha Chameera. The bowler stared at the stumper in disbelief. The batsman heaved a sigh of relief.
Of late Warner had been dealing in single-digit scores. With every passing day, he was looking damned. At his peak, Warner’s batting oozes the sparkle of a diamond.Midway into his 42-ball 65, the southpaw regained his sparkle. A carry-forward of this would be excellent news for Australia and a major headache for their opponents.
Also finally, breaking the pain barrier, Warner could afford to smile, first when he made room and drove a Chameera delivery to the wide long-off boundary. The sweet sound of crisp timing penetrated the glass front of a cosy press box. His happiness was even greater after his side secured a seven-wicket win, with three overs remaining. His batting was the reason why Australia raced to a victory target of 155 without breaking much sweat.
Adam Zampa’s bowling set up the victory and deservingly earned him the Man of the Match award. But we would come to the leggie later.
By his own admission, the 35-year-old Warner wasn’t given the reason by the Sunrisers management for his captaincy snub. Such a distinguished cricket career probably didn’t deserve that. For millions of his fans, this was a fitting response. He was playing for pride other than turning up for his country.
Warner’s captain Aaron Finch led from the front during a 70-run opening wicket partnership in just 6.5 overs. When his partner needed time to get into the groove, Finch’s cameo provided that. His aggression upfront allowed Australia to grab the chase by the lapels. Fourth over was the turning point.
Lahiru Kumara bowled good length, Finch shimmied down the track and elegantly drove the delivery past mid-off for a four. A short ball followed and a six ensued. Warner joined the party with back-to-back boundaries and a 20-run over took the pressure off. Finch took Chameera to the cleaners in the next over with a four and a six. A fine start gave Warner the leeway to steadily grow into the game.
Charith Asalanka could well have been the showstopper on the night. His start was electric, through a couple of contemptuous fours against Pat Cummins. Glenn Maxwell was strong-armed to another six and a four, forcing the bowler to bowl five wides under pressure. The pitch was playing well and riding on a 63-run second wicket partnership, Sri Lanka were taking the game to Australia. Then, Zampa intervened.
The leg-spinner was courageous enough to try some variations in flight. He was getting some loop as well. But Asalanka was actually done in by length, the way Zampa held it back. A mistimed sweep went to Steve Smith at deep backward square leg.
Avishka Fernando fell prey to a fastish leg-break, with the batsman attempting a slog-sweep against the turn. Zampa’s dot balls created enough pressure for Sri Lanka to choke in the middle overs. In a phase of five overs, they scored just 22 runs and lost four wickets.
Maybe, Zampa’s bowling also highlighted India’s selection mistake against Pakistan, their decision to go without a wrist-spinner. First Shadab Khan in that game followed by Zampa today showed that leg-spinners are better placed to take wickets at this venue with the help of a larger outfield.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa laid into Marcus Stoinis at the death to give Sri Lanka’s total, 154/6, a competitive edge. But after posting 78/2 in the 10th over, they had the chance to make the total imposing.
At the end of the match, Zampa spoke more about Warner. “David played really well. It’s really nice for those guys to get time in the middle. They have had a bit of pressure from the media but Finchy played really well, Steve played really well and so did Davey,” he said at the post-match presentation.
On a night when the entire Bollywood descended on Dubai for a glitzy show, vast swathes of empty seats in the stands captured the T20 World Cup’s failure to woo the fans. Warner’s show was a saving grace.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 154/6 in 20 overs (Kusal Perera 35, Charith Asalanka 35; Adam Zampa 2/12, Mitchell Starc 2/27) lost to Australia 155/3 in 17 overs (David Warner 65; Wanindu Hasarang 2/22). Australia won by 7 wickets.