Sixteen off the last over would be a daunting enough challenge for any batsman in a Twenty20 chase. Sixteen an over for the final three overs is something else entirely. And yet Australia's captain, Aaron Finch, said he felt that while Asela Gunaratne remained at the crease, Sri Lanka still had a chance of achieving their goal, an assessment that turned out to be accurate, to the delight of thousands of Sri Lankan fans at Geelong's Kardinia Oval.
Gunaratne took 12 off James Faulkner, then 22 off Moises Henriques, and the 14 that Sri Lanka then needed off the final over from Andrew Tye were completed when Gunaratne crunched the last ball over cover for four. Finch said Gunaratne, who had also scored a half-century in Sri Lanka's successful chase at the MCG on Friday, was a particularly difficult batsman to defend against due to his ability to strike boundaries to any part of the ground.
"The plan was pace off and wide," Finch said. "If he wanted to go to the short boundary over the leg side, make him really fetch it with no pace on the ball. Geez, he hit some clean, didn't he? He played a hell of an innings. That's as good a striking as you'll see. For a guy to be able to hit over fine leg and over mid-off, they're pretty rare skills to be able to do both, and he hasn't mis-hit a ball in two games now.
"With the dimensions of the ground, with an in-batter who was hitting them so clean, you know that you still have to execute. I felt all along that we had to get him out to win, or get him off strike a little bit more. We struggled to do that for the last three overs. We couldn't seem to bowl enough balls at [Nuwan] Kulasekara and then [Lasith] Malinga. But when you've got a guy who's in like that, it's so hard to defend. The way our bowlers bowled up front and then through the middle was top-drawer."
Nearly 14,000 spectators turned out to the match, which was the first international ever played in Geelong, and a good proportion of those were Sri Lankan supporters. For almost two hours after the match ended, several hundred of those Sri Lankan fans celebrated outside the ground on Moorabool Street, with trumpets blaring as they waited for the Sri Lankan players to emerge on their way to the team bus.
Although the result was a disappointing one for Australia, Finch said he was pleased with the way Geelong supported Kardinia Oval's international debut. Crowd numbers might have been higher if it weren't for heavy rain earlier in the day, which affected the women's T20I between Australia and New Zealand that preceded the men's match.
"Being about minus seven degrees doesn't help," Finch joked, "and it was bucketing down with rain all day. But the crowd was still fantastic. The surface, after so much of a downpour, was unbelievable, the wicket played really well. No bigger test than the weather that Geelong had over the last couple of days. To be able to produce a world-class venue like that was unbelievable."