George Bailey starred in the 3rd ODI as Australia won the match by 2 wickets © AFP
George Bailey starred in the 3rd ODI as Australia won the match by 2 wickets © AFP

They battle till the last ball is bowled. They don’t easily back down. Even if they lose, they make sure they put up a good fight. After suffering a disastrous whitewash in the Test series, getting a 2-1 lead in the five-match 50-over series is as good as coming back from the dead. If truth be told, they struggled against spin in the first match, the way they did in Test series. However, it was captain Steven Smith in the forefront of a rescue mission. And when he gets going, Australia are often seen at the doorstep of victory. All the same, now that he has been rested, southpaw David Warner led the team in the third match, and will continue to do so in the last two matches. . FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Australia vs Sri Lanka, 4th ODI at Dambulla

Let’s walk through the series before we check the key battles. The visitors registered their first victory of the tour, as they beat Sri Lanka by 3 wickets in the first match. Mitchell Starc, the only bowler who dictated terms to the hosts in the gruelling Test series, was yet again in thick of the action. His figures 3 for 32 made sure Sri Lanka are restricted to 227 for 8. However, all-rounder James Faulkner was awarded Man of the Match for his stunning four-for on a spinner-friendly track. ALSO READ: Australia vs Sri Lanka 4th ODI: Australia eye series win

Sri Lanka fought back in the second match, thumping the mighty Aussies by 82 runs. All the same, Faulkner hogged attention with his hat-trick, becoming only the sixth Australian to achieve this feat. His efforts went in vain, as Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews scored 58 and scalped 2 wickets to get the Man of the Match award. ALSO READ: Sri Lanka vs Australia: Injury rules out Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja named replacement

The third match was a cliffhanger, and Tillakaratne Dilshan’s last international assignment. Yes, the same Dilshan that caught the world in trance with his ‘Dil scoop’ (originally a ‘Douglas Marillier’ shot, to be honest). He scored a brisk 42, eventually ending his career with what we call a soft dismissal. On the other hand, Dinesh Chandimal delivered something that was due from him: 102 off 130 balls. But his blistering hundred could take his team to 226 all-out, which Australia chased down with 24 balls remaining, losing 8 wickets. READ: SLC offer apologies for chaos in 3rd ODI against Australia

The series has undoubtedly produced some top-drawer cricket. The batsmen have scored under pressure, the bowlers left no stone unturned to provide breakthroughs and the fielding has been swashbuckling. Now that we know how the series has unfolded so far, let’s have a look at the key battles:

David Warner vs Angelo Mathews: For a batsman of Warner’s class, scores of 8, 1 and 10 are indeed mediocre. We hardly seem him struggle, be it any format. As a matter of fact, he was the second highest run-scorer in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), scoring 848 runs from 17 matches. He then continued his staggering form in West Indies Tri-Nation Series. However, he was later sent home due to injury. Ever since, the southpaw has failed to display stellar performances. All in all, he needs one remarkable innings to get back to his rampaging best.

He will be pit against Mathews, Sri Lanka’s new-ball bowler.

Mathews has picked up 4 wickets at an average of 20 and economy of 4, on tracks that do not produce enough bounce for the pacers. On the other hand, he managed to dismiss Warner in the second encounter. To add to the fire, unlike other Australians, Warner got out to pacers. Thus, this battle of the captains is sure to set the scoreboard on fire.

Dinesh Chandimal vs Adam Zampa: Chandimal’s performance this series is unmatched. He has churned out 230 runs at an outstanding average of 115, including one century and one half-century. In addition, he performed when the chips were down. He, as a matter of fact, displayed grit and resilience, and tried his best to take his team out of the woods.

On the other hand, Australia have leg-spinner in Adam Zampa at their disposal. Zampa managed to trap Chandimal in front with his venomous spin in the second contest. Given the form Chandimal is in, Zampa will play a major role to vanquish Sri Lanka’s numero uno batsman, putting the hosts on the back foot. However, Zampa’s figures this series are excellent as well. In three matches, he has picked up 6 wickets at 19.00, with an economy of 4.22.

George Bailey vs Amila Aponso: Scoring 136 runs at 45.33, Bailey has been providing the much needed impetus at the middle order, especially in the third match when the Sri Lankan spinners dominated (yet again) the visitors.

Sri Lanka’s highest wicket-taker, Aponso has had a dream start to his international career, as he has taken 7 wickets at 12.71 (mark the average). Yes, the contests are being played on dust-bowls, but Aponso has been incredibly disciplined with his line, not willing to give away easy runs.

These days we often see orthodox slow left-arm bowlers take bulk of the wickets with their wily and deceitful finger-spin. Considering this, Aponso will have to continue his top-notch performance to keep his team on course. And for that to happen, he will have to send Bailey back to the pavilion as early as possible.

Sri Lanka’s lower middle-order vs James Faulkner: His numbers speak volumes about his abilities. He, in fact, is the highest wicket-taker of the series, with 9 scalps at 14.11, including a brilliant hat-trick. More than the medium pace, he is known for his back-of-the-hand deliveries. And on slower tracks, he is even more effective.

He is a death-over specialist, no matter what team he plays for. Even in this series, most of the wickets he took were either of the middle or lower middle-order.

Not only just four, there are going to many battles within the battle: Mitchell Starc vs Kusal Mendis, Thisara Perera vs Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood vs Danushka Gunathilaka, Mathew Wade vs Seekkuge Prasanna, among others.

Sri Lanka have no option but to win this match. One mistake and they will lose the series. And for them to level the series, they have to fire on all cylinders and dent the Aussies.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)