Cricket World Cup 2019: Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc shine as Australia beat Sri Lanka to go on top
Mitchell Starc struck telling blows to derail Sri Lanka's chase. © AFP

LONDON: Sri Lanka threatened to upend Australia in the upset of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, but Mitchell Starc underlined, once again, his worth as a potent strike bowler to impact a collapse of five wickets for 32 runs.

Chasing 334 after Aaron Finch scored his 14th ODI century, Sri Lanka were given a rousing start of 115 in 15.3 overs between Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera, but once Starc yorked Perera for a fiery 52 the chase began to unravel. Karunaratne battled his way to a career-best 97, and once he was out Starc returned to grab three wickets in five deliveries to snuff out Sri Lanka’s fight.

Sri Lanka were bowled out for 247 in 45.5 overs to lose by 87 runs. Australia zoomed to the top of the points table.

The start to Sri Lanka’s chase, however, raised hopes of a record World Cup chase. Perera’s short-arm jabs were on display as he hit Australia’s pace bowlers off their lines, while Karunaratne cut, flicked and edged his way for quick runs. Sri Lanka’s skipper also got a couple fortuitous boundaries that took the inside edge and narrowly missed the stumps, which added to a rapid start. After eight overs, Karunaratne was 42 off 34 balls and Perera 18 from 14.

In Jason Behrendorff’s third over, Perera sliced six over point, sprinted two after he nudged the ball past midwicket and then scampered a risky single that fetched him five runs after Finch missed the stumps and conceded four. The over ended with Perera glancing Behrendorff for four. In the stands, the partisan Sri Lankan fans were delirious.

SCORECARD: AUSTRALIA vs SRI LANKA, KENNINGTON OVAL

Kane Richardson was disdainfully pulled over midwicket for four more, then missed a poke and saw Australia review the not-out verdict. When replays cleared Perera, the Sri Lanka supporters roared as one. After ten overs, their team was 87 for no loss.

Dimuth Karunaratne 97
Dimuth Karunaratne scored a career-best 97 off 108 deliveries. © AFP

Karunaratne then flat-batted Richardson over the fingertips of Usman Khawaja at midwicket for four more to raise his fifty off 43 deliveries. Moments later, Karunaratne missed a shot to Glenn Maxwell. Australia didn’t have a review to use, but if they did, Karunaratne would have been on his way.

Perera’s fifty came up from 33 balls with a single when he jammed out a Starc yorker, and it was one such delivery that bowled him for 52. Perera walked off to a near standing ovation.

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Lahiru Thirimanne – the weak link in Sri Lanka’s batting lineup – scratched his way to 16 off 26 balls before he nicked Behrendorff. At this stage the asking rate had touched seven per over. Karunaratne battled on to 97 until he slapped Richardson straight to gully, a dismissal that cued a wobble.

Pat Cummins returned and bounced out Angelo Mathews, then Starc removed Milinda Siriwardana and Thisara Perera in one over and Kusal Mendis in his next. Siriwardana was bowled off an inside edge, Perera chipped to mid-on and Mendis was hurried by pace and edged to Alex Carey. From the safety of 186/2, Sri Lanka had slumped to 222/7.

The end came soon after, when Cummins got his second wicket.

Aaron Finch World Cup
Aaron Finch soaks in his 14th ODI century, and first as World Cup captain. © AFP

Earlier, after he lost his fifth toss in a row, Finch continued his white-ball renaissance by scoring his third 50-plus score of the tournament, first dominating a stand of 80 for the opening wicket and then adding 173 with Steve Smith. Australia’s skipper levelled his career-best ODI score, making 153 off 132 balls in a robust display of hitting.

The batting deck at Kennington Oval was not quite true, for plenty of deliveries didn’t hurry onto the bat, which makes Finch’s innings a rather excellent one. His driving was confident and he beat cover and mid-off sumptuously to collect fours. Ominous signs indeed, as Finch thumped past the stumps and drilled the ball past cover. Three misfields in the span of eight deliveries added six runs to Australia’s total, and when an lbw review against Finch was unsuccessfully reviewed, Sri Lankan shoulders sagged.

While Finch rattled along at over a run-a-ball, David Warner struggled to force the ball away as Sri Lanka’s pace attack cleverly denied him room and kept him defending or nudging the ball to the onside. He was bowled by Dhananjaya de Silva for 26 from 48 balls, ending the stand at 80.

The second wicket came de Silva’s way too, when a very unconvincing Usman Khawaja, after being made to hop and sway by Nuwan Pradeep, swept straight to deep midwicket for 10 off 20 balls.

Finch had crossed 50 by this time, and joined by Smith he set about recovering the innings. He took his six tally in the World Cup to ten with a hook off Pradeep, and two in two balls against de Silva hurried Finch towards his century. The landmark came up in 97 balls with another six, smashed over long-off, and Finch celebrated with wide arms and acknowledgement to all corners of the Oval.

Since going 21 limited-overs innings without a half-century, he has now scored crossed 50 eight times in 13.

Finch scored his last 52 runs off 35 balls in a flurry of boundaries, until one big swing too many saw him caught at cover off Isuru Udana. Five balls later, Smith played across the line of a well-directed yorker from Lasith Malinga and was bowled for 73 off 59 balls. Australia lost their way in the last five overs as Malinga and Udana varied their pace excellently, but the defending champions had enough on the board.

Brief scores: Australia 334/7 in 50 overs (Finch 153, Smith 73) beat Sri Lanka 247 in 45.5 overs(Karunaratne 97, Perera 52, Starc 4/55) by 87 runs