A partisan Melbourne crowd played its part in Sri Lanka's exquisite series victory, Asela Gunaratne said after his unbeaten knock of 84 from 46 balls in only his sixth T20 international propelled Sri Lanka to their 174 target in Geelong.
Partisan because although the first two T20s were ostensibly away matches, Sri Lanka's limited-overs games in Melbourne have long attracted booming support from the large Sri Lankan population in the city. Most of the 41,000 in attendance at the MCG on Friday had been Sri Lanka supporters, and the Geelong - an hour's drive from Melbourne - crowd had been no different. "Papare" music was heard in the stands, which also produced roars of delight when the winning runs were struck as Gunaratne's team-mates charged the field to hoist him up on their shoulders.
"There was so much support, it was like we were playing in Sri Lanka," Gunaratne said. "That's a huge strength for us - the way they were always cheering. It helped us finish the match.
"We had a chance to win the series, and if we had missed that chance, it would have been a big waste. I was really happy. Winning a series in Australia is something special."
A Sri Lanka victory seemed unlikely for a large portion of the chase, because by the end of the fifth over they were reduced to 5 for 41. The required rate then climbed to ten by the halfway stage, but Gunaratne felt there always seemed a "good chance of winning" so he plotted Sri Lanka's way out of the hole they had got themselves in.
First came the 52-run stand with Chamara Kapugedera, which allowed Gunaratne to settle at the crease - even if those runs had come at only 6.5 an over. From there, Gunaratne worked to put Sri Lanka within striking distance in the final overs. When 36 runs were required from the last 12 balls, he sprung spectacularly into action.
"My plan with two overs left was to hit 20 runs in that over - preferably without running at all," Gunaratne said. "Thankfully, 22 came in that over and when it got down to 14 off the last one, that was much easier. Well, no matter how tough it is, it's something that had to be done. In the end, it worked out."
Gunaratne had been kept scoreless off the first ball of that penultimate over, but struck sixes off each of the next three balls to loosen Australia's grip on the game. He was constantly shuffling to the offside to open up leg, and said he always had a good idea where his best boundary options were.
"I was always looking to target those small boundaries" he said. "The longer sides were obviously going to be harder to hit to. It all paid off and I'm very happy, because all I thought of was finishing the match."
Sri Lanka No. 3 Dilshan Munaweera said Gunaratne's innings made his team-mates' "dreams come true".
"From a Sri Lankan, I think that's the best T20 knock I've seen," Munaweera said. "He was hitting such good bowlers - the Australian bowlers have recently played the Big Bash, so they were on rhythm. He made it count and batted through the innings. We [the players] were like supporters [in the dugout] and he made our dreams come true."
Sri Lanka are yet to lose a T20 international in Australia after five matches there. Though they do not have a flagship T20 domestic tournament like Australia do, Munaweera said Sri Lanka have a natural inclination to the shortest format.
"Altogether we have played so much competitive cricket in T20s - not just here," he said. "If you look at our stats, we've been to plenty of finals in the World T20, and we have won once. I think it doesn't matter where we play. The format is suited to us, and our boys are on the game."