Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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Prime Minister's XI 9 for 132 (Nielsen 79, Rajitha 3-21 Sandakan 3-21) beat Sri Lankans 8 for 131 (Fernando 38, Christian 2-16) by one wicket
Kasun Rajitha looked as though he had stolen the game when he dismissed Nielsen off the second ball of the final over with nine still needed for victory. Nielsen had batted magnificently to hold the chase of 132 together while his team-mates collapsed against a very skilful Sri Lankan attack. Nielsen was Rajitha's third wicket and it left Ahmed and young ACT player Djali Bloomfield to score nine runs off the final five balls. Ahmed pinched a two through cover before Rajitha missed with an attempted yorker and Ahmed swiped it over midwicket for four. He scrounged two more straight of long-on to tie the scores only for Rajitha to deliver a wide to hand the game back to the Prime Minister's XI.
The home side had done their best to lose it after an impressive bowling display from the Sri Lankans. Pace and late swing from Rajitha and Nuwan Pradeep reduced the home side to 3 for 26 inside the first five overs. Chris Lynn's lack of recent cricket was exposed as he was clean bowled by a full outswinger from Rajitha that knocked out leg stump. Lynn showed all three stumps and closed the bat face trying to whip to leg.
Rajitha's extra pace and late swing also undid Jason Sangha. He was caught superbly at slip by Kusal Mendis stretching high above his head after Sangha flashed hard on the drive.
Lakshan Sandakan then bowled beautifully to rip through the middle order taking 3 for 21 from four overs. He was helped by some outstanding wicketkeeping from Niroshan Dickwella. He held the outside edge of Dan Christian from a Sandakan slider and produced two excellent stumpings to remove Mackenzie Harvey and Chris Green.
But Nielsen stood firm. He had some luck, dropped in the deep by Bhanuka Rajapaksa off Sandakan on 27, but he showed tremendous skill and composure striking nine fours and a six in his 50-ball 79. The highlight was back-to-back boundaries off Danushka Gunathilaka. He skipped down the track to loft inside out over long-off for six before reverse sweeping the next ball past short third man for four.
Earlier, the Sri Lankans were disappointing with the bat in their first match since sweeping the T20 series in Pakistan. They faced 52 dot balls in their 20 overs against a Prime Minister's XI attack that only had three internationals.
Gunathilaka felt he was unfortunate to be dismissed in the second over given out caught behind to Bloomfield. He even asked the umpire if there was DRS available before walking off. Mendis really struggled before holing out to deep square off Christian's first ball.
Only Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando found any fluency, continuing their fine form from the tour of Pakistan. They struck five boundaries and four sixes between them but neither were able to capitalise on their starts. Rajapaksa was undone by a clever piece of bowling from Ahmed. He had late cut the previous ball for four and his eyes lit up again when he saw a similar length, but it was slid through quicker and straighter to knock out middle stump.
Fernando looked in ominous touch, producing classical on drives and reverse sweeps during his 38, but was deceived by a Christian slower ball.
Co-captains Christian and Peter Siddle were so confident the Sri Lankan tail would not wag they bowled spin in two of the last three overs of the innings. The home side also had the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison run out drinks at the fall of a wicket.