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Lanning stoops to conquer after Atapattu's tale of the unexpected

It should have been a match-winning innings.

It should have given Sri Lanka the shock victory of the tournament.

It should have led to a result to humble the defending world champions as they faced a record World Cup chase.

Only it didn't.

But for a few hours the gloomy clouds hanging above Bristol could not dim the brilliance of Chamari Atapattu. They couldn't even cast a faint shadow.

The game was only three balls old when Atapattu came to the crease. Opening the bowling for Australia, Ellyse Perry was doing what Ellyse Perry does; finding enough swing with the new ball and taking an early wicket. In this case it was Nipuni Hansika fooled by the inswing, playing the wrong line and being trapped lbw. Sri Lanka, one wicket down, no runs. Let the carnage begin.

Only it didn't.

Atapattu had 60 ODI innings behind her when she took guard. She had scored two ODI centuries before, against Ireland and South Africa. But this was Australia and a fired-up, hungry Perry. The first delivery she faced was a wide, the next defended and the third left. On the final delivery of the first over, Atapattu turned the ball to fine leg for a single. So far, so ordinary.

But she was on her way.

Early in the third over, Atapattu was at the non-striker's end when she realised her shoelace had come undone. Rather than remove her gloves she trotted over to Meg Lanning, fielding in the covers, and the Australian captain obligingly knelt down and retied it for her. On the fifth ball of the over Atapattu drove Perry through long-off. It was the first of 28 boundaries, the most runs - 124 - scored in boundaries in the history of women's ODIs.

Her stature seemed to grow in tune with her innings. With each stroke she unfurled a little more, stood an inch taller, expanded to fill the space around her. She was smashing boundaries in all directions. Her wagon wheel was a near perfect starburst, a firework frozen at the moment of explosion.

The tempo of her innings swelled from a smattering of boundaries interspersed with singles - a general lack of urgency in running between the wickets prevented them from being twos - to a crescendo of furious smiting.

She waited until the 37th over to hammer her first six; a massive slog over deep midwicket off the bowling of Kristen Beams. There would be five more - one short of the ODI record - the pick of them a perfectly timed lofted drive straight back over Megan Schutt's head, as powerful as it was dismissive.

When Perry, brought back for the death, tried to bounce her out, Atapattu hooked with control and, most memorably, flat-batted a short ball with venom past the bowler for yet another boundary. The most highly rated attack in women's cricket was being carted around the ground by a player most fans wouldn't be able to pick out in a line-up.

But Sri Lanka's wickets were falling almost as frequently as Atapattu was scoring. She stood calm and still in a maelstrom as a procession of batsmen came and went, most of them through their own mistakes. Australia weren't bowling at their best. The ground fielding was uncharacteristically sloppy, Beth Mooney dropped a regulation catch and many of the return throws left wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy shaking her head at the stumps.

But despite this, Sri Lanka's batters left their stumps exposed, tried to sweep balls that were too full or too wide of off stump and went for big shots when all they needed to do was turn over the strike to their run-scoring machine.

Atapattu's broad shoulders carried Sri Lanka to the 50-over mark and she never flinched. Instead, she scored more than 69 percent of Sri Lanka's runs, the third-highest ODI innings in history, the second-highest World Cup total and the biggest individual score ever against an Australian side. She had almost single-handedly set Australia a record chase in a World Cup.

Atapattu moonlights as an assistant marketing manager in a Sri Lankan bank. She couldn't have sold her own image any better.

There was only one player on the field who was fit to tie her shoelaces.

Meg Lanning came to the crease when Australia's innings was 12 balls old. On paper, the Sri Lankans were no match for her side but Lanning had just watched Atapattu tear up that piece of parchment, chew it up and spit it out with relish.

Lanning defended the first two balls she faced before digging out a full delivery from Udeshika Prabodhani and creaming it past the fumbling point fielder to the boundary.

Fielding at point or backward point when Lanning is at the crease is like offering to stick an apple on your head when William Tell is hanging about. She cuts so often and so beautifully she should come with a free set of steak knives. Inoka Ranaweera had two fielders almost holding hands at backward point and it barely mattered. You could have had the entire Sri Lankan team fielding between Lanning and the backward-point boundary and somehow the ball would still get through.

Lanning has more arrows in her quiver, of course. The languid drives and powerful pulls were all there on display. She also had more support than Atapattu could hope for. While Lanning is a giant of the game, she stands on the shoulders of team-mates who share the load.

So while Lanning galloped along at a run a ball, Nicole Bolton - who was dropped by wicketkeeper Prasadani Weerakkody on four - chimed in with a fine half-century and Perry offered elegant support.

The problem with Lanning is that she makes the extraordinary look everyday. She has broken so many records, passed so many milestones that it becomes difficult to find new superlatives for her extravagant talent.

So while Atapattu's hundred had delighted the modest crowd and sent commentators and journalists into raptures of delight, Lanning's seemed like the most natural thing in the world; as one observer noted, this match had produced both the least and most expected centuries imaginable.

It may have been Lanning's 11th century, her highest ODI tally and the seventh-best World Cup innings. But when she, almost nonchalantly, finished off the record chase with a glorious lofted drive down the ground for six, it seemed like just another day in the office.

The post-match interviews centred on Atapattu's valiant innings, by far the highest total in a losing side in ODIs, and all the talk centred on whether she might have caught the eye of franchises in the WBBL or the Kia Super League. She had given Sri Lanka a shot in the arm, a glimmer of what could be, and some hope for the future.

But in the end there really was only one player fit to tie Atapattu's shoelaces.

And she won the match for Australia.