Upul Tharanga was making his comeback after failing at the top of the order. Dhammika Parasad, too, would not have played this game if not for injuries to Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera. Nuwan Kulasekara is a specialist bowler, whose runs are often a bonus. Also Tharanga batted in the middle order, an unfamiliar position. Between the three of them they had no business making a game out of the first final after Sri Lanka were 6 for 144, chasing 322.
It is the fight the three showed that gave Australia a scare, and made Michael Clarke remark: "They refuse to go away, don't they?" It is the fight the three showed that givesMahela Jayawardene hope for the next two finals. It is the fight the three showed that shows Sri Lanka are enjoying playing here, despite the injuries, despite the tough schedule (they have played three games in six days, and will have to play five in 10 if they are to win). They are cherishing their time in the middle, trying their best to take the games as deep as possible.
"From 150 for 6, I am quite happy with the effort from the boys," Jayawardene said after their first defeat to Australia in four matches. "It shows a lot of character that we got back into it. Obviously we didn't play a perfect game today, with the ball. The momentum is very important. The first five-six overs we didn't put enough pressure on them
"Three hundred and twenty-odd was always going to be a tough ask. We lost wickets trying to catch up with the rate and were not sure of what would happen with the rain as well. Some of the boys showed some real character and kept fighting, which is something you want to cultivate in the team. But unfortunately we are 1-0 down in a three-match final and we need to improve to beat them."
Kulasekara and Tharanga formed a near irresistible combination, the former chancing his arm and connecting with everything, the latter staying calm, all in wet conditions. Sixty-eight runs came off the batting Powerplay. If Kulasekara's clean striking stunned Australia, Tharanga's cool head reassured Sri Lanka. He never looked panicked despite an asking-rate of close to two a ball. His calling was clear and his hitting areas worked out. Even after Kulasekara's dismissal, with 74 still required off 50 balls, Prasad kept the fight on, and the six he hit over extra cover off a short-of-a-length ball from Brett Lee would have done specialist batsmen proud.
Jayawardene spoke of the positive mindset his team has. "Even when they [Tharanga and Prasad] were left out, we gave them the reasons why. They are quite happy, and they kept working at their game. When they get an opportunity they are coming in with a very positive frame of mind. We have given them the licence to play some good cricket.
"I am quite happy with the way Upul played. That's a very unusual place for him to bat. He showed a lot of maturity. Kula [Kulasekara], we know he can do it, Dhammika as well. I am quite happy with the attitude, the decision-making process in the middle, so we just need to keep doing that, and we will improve as a team."
The fightback may not have resulted in a win, but it does let Australia know they have not been able to put distance between themselves and the spirited visitors. Jayawardene said his side's performances just needed a little tweaking for them to win the final two games. "As a team we have played some consistent cricket and know that if we fine-tune certain areas and handle certain situations better, we will win matches."
However, it will be difficult to continue the comeback. Thisara Perera has already gone back to Sri Lanka. They are not sure if Angelo Mathews can make a comeback in time. There is no day off. They travel to Adelaide on Monday, and play on Tuesday. What can you do over such a short period of time? "It's about speaking to a few individuals about their roles and trying to tighten things up in areas which we have let ourselves down in," Jayawardene said. "As a group, we will sit and discuss a few things. People will come up with different ideas in team meetings, which is always good, and in a situation out there in the middle we can implement those ideas."
The break may be brief, but considering Tuesday's match could prove to be their last game in Australia, bank on Mathews' making a desperate bid to play. Don't expect Sri Lanka to hold anything back either.
Edited by Dustin Silgardo