On debut, Phillip Hughes scored a century to give Australia a 1-0 lead in this series. In the final game, he made another hundred to save Australia from series defeat and salvage a 2-2 result. Set 248 to win the game and the five-match contest, Sri Lanka struggled early, staged a plucky fightback led by Angelo Mathews, and ultimately fell short as Australia's bowlers backed up the fine work of Hughes, whose unbeaten 138 was all the more important in a batting line-up missing Michael Clarke.
Australia's captain had been ruled out due to an ankle injury suffered at training on the day before the match and it left the Australians with a flimsy looking batting order that featured the allrounders Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques at Nos. 6 and 7. But Hughes ensured the heavy lifting was done by the time those men walked to the crease and having been sent in by Mahela Jayawardene, who backed his team's chasing form, the Australians were pleased with their 5 for 247.
Still, the pitch was good, and only last summer Sri Lanka had successfully chased down 281 to beat the Australians at the same venue. The visitors knew they were in with a good chance. But early wickets were costly, and ultimately fatal to their victory hopes. At the halfway point of the chase Sri Lanka were 4 for 85, with barely one-third of the runs they needed. For most of the final 15 overs, the required run-rate hovered above nine an over.
Mathews and Jeevan Mendis caused Australia some jitters with a 79-run stand that in its latter stages kept up with the required rate, but when both men fell in consecutive overs with 61 runs still required, it was all but over. They had picked the gaps well and were finding the boundary regularly until Mendis (26) advanced to Moises Henriques, who sent the bull full and straight and rattled the stumps.
In the next over, Mathews fell for 67 from 79 balls when he tried to pull a slower-ball bouncer from Mitchell Johnson and succeeded only in lobbing a catch to midwicket. Henriques followed up by bowling Thisara Perera for 7 and he finished with 3 for 32 from his ten overs, an impressive performance from a man whose results so far in the series had been slim. Clint McKay finished the job with the final two wickets to secure the 32-run victory in the 49th over.
The problems had started for Sri Lanka through a somewhat unlikely source, the spinner Xavier Doherty, who had not taken a wicket in the series until this game. But his flight and subtle turn troubled the Sri Lankans and he ended a promising opening partnership of 57 when Mahela Jayawardene, who looked in crisp form for 38 from 39 balls, tried to drive Doherty over mid-off and instead lobbed a catch to mid-on.
In Doherty's next over he added the wicket of Lahiru Thirimanne, who with 1 from 10 balls had struggled to make a fluent start. The pressure of dot balls accounted for Thirimanne, who tried to smash Doherty over midwicket and was caught in the deep. Tillakaratne Dilshan followed for a scratchy 19 from 48 balls when he tickled a catch through to Matthew Wade off Henriques, who found just enough away movement.
The Sri Lankan chase was almost derailed when Dinesh Chandimal (6) played an ugly attempted flick through leg only to see Doherty's ball spin just enough to beat the bat and hit the stumps. At 4 for 77, Sri Lanka needed something special. It didn't come from Kushal Perera, who top-edged Johnson and was caught at midwicket for 14, leaving the score at 5 for 108.
Slowly, Mathews and Mendis worked Sri Lanka back into the contest and Mathews could dream of another come-from-behind chase, just like he orchestrated in his first match in Australia three years ago. But not this time. This time, the runs posted by Hughes early in the match proved the difference. His hundred was all the more important after Australia lost both their openers within the first ten overs of the game.
There were useful contributions from several batsmen, notably David Hussey with 34, but Hughes was the key man and finished unbeaten on 138 from 154 balls. While Hughes lifted his tempo in the final stages, some of his partners were unable to stick around. Hussey was run out when he slammed the ball into the ground and back to the bowler Thisara Perera and inexplicably took off for a run that wasn't there, giving Perera plenty of time to throw down the stumps.
Glenn Maxwell followed for 9 when he skied a catch to cover off Lasith Malinga, providing Maxwell with his third single-figure score from three ODIs in this series. That was Malinga's only wicket for the innings and while some of his yorkers in the middle overs were threatening, overall he was not quite as dangerous as during the previous few games. Nor was Nuwan Kulasekara, who collected 1 for 57 and couldn't find the same sort of swing he had displayed over the past week.
In fact, Sri Lanka's best bowler was arguably the part-timer Dilshan, who opened, sent down three maidens, and finished with 1 for 22 from seven overs. Dilshan broke the 31-run opening stand between David Warner and Matthew Wade, who was moved up from the middle order. On 10, Warner played for a straight ball but Dilshan, coming around the wicket, got the ball to straighten enough to beat the bat of Warner, who looked back to see his off stump disturbed.
Wade (23) was lbw to Kulasekara in the tenth over, his ill-judged attempted late cut to a straight ball matched only by his poor decision to have Richard Kettleborough's lbw call reviewed. That left the Australians at 2 for 37 and needing to prevent another collapse. Hughes and the stand-in captain George Bailey steadied the innings with a 60-run partnership which, although not brisk, was important. On 17, Bailey chipped a return catch to Thisara Perera but Australia had a platform.
Hughes, fresh from three single-figure scores, was initially cautious but started to pick off some boundaries as his innings moved on, including a couple of handsome drives through cover and mid-off when the Sri Lankan fast bowlers overpitched. His half-century came from 82 balls and gradually he became more and more confident, even opening his stance to crunch Malinga through wide mid-on for a boundary.
His hundred came with a cut for four off Perera from his 132nd delivery and he was keen to lift the scoring rate after that, slogging Kulasekara over midwicket for the only six of the innings. The Australians picked up 47 runs in the final five overs, 30 of which came from the bat of Hughes.
In the end, Hughes wasn't Player of the Series - that honour went to Kulasekara - but he was Man of the Match in Australia's two wins. Not bad for a first effort.