ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Finch celebrates a superb hundred © AFP
Considering the overhead conditions, Dimuth Karunaratne's decision to bowl seemed like a straightforward one. But the lack of assistance for the pacers, barring the initial few overs, and the way Australia went about it with the bat, would have left the Sri Lanka captain bereft of answers at the end of the first innings at The Oval on Saturday (June 15). Riding on skipper Aaron Finch's 132-ball 153 and his 173-run stand off 119 balls with Steven Smith, and some late fireworks from Glenn Maxwell (46 not out off 25), Australia posted an imposing 334 for 7 on the board.
Australia were again off to a solid start courtesy Finch, who found the ropes regularly and concentrated on playing in the 'V', mindful that he has been a leg-before candidate early in his innings. The Australian openers were also judicious, shouldering arms to anything that was directed away from the stumps. Finch was quick to capitalise on anything that was loose, striking two successive fours off Thisara Perera in the 10th over bring up Australia's' fourth fifty-plus opening stand in this World Cup.
Finch, who survived a Sri Lankan referral when he was rapped on the pads by Thisara Perera, continued to be fluent with his stroke-play and also rotated the strike well en route his third fifty-plus score in this tournament. At the other end, David Warner was watchfully setting up a platform for himself like he had done in some of the previous games. However, unlike his innings against Pakistan, Warner wasn't able to build on this one as he failed to read a straighter one from Dhananjaya de Silva while attempting a cut to be bowled for 26 off 48. Usman Khawaja, back at his favoured No. 3 position, wasn't able to contribute much as the slog-sweep brought about his undoing - giving Dhananjaya his second wicket.
But Finch was in no mood to let the advantage slip, taking on Dhananjaya for a four and two sixes off consecutive deliveries before smashing a Milinda Siriwardana delivery across the long-off fence to become only the third Australian captain to register a hundred in the World Cup. Smith too was busy at the other end - running well between the wickets and managing timely boundaries - to help build a partnership in the middle overs that set things up nicely for Australia.
That the Sri Lankan bowlers weren't as disciplined as they would have liked only contributed to Australia's progress as they crossed the 200 mark shortly after the second drinks break, with the Finch-Smith association going beyond 100 - the third century for an Australian pair in this edition. And if Sri Lanka had hoped to take some inspiration from the Mohammad Amir-engineered comeback with the ball in Australia's previous game, it didn't translate into action as their bowling lacked sting, and the plethora of loose deliveries made things easier for the third-wicket pair who extended the partnership past 150 and the total past 250 by the time the 41st over was completed.
Sri Lanka managed some damage control in the death as Finch fell in his attempt to clear the boundary off Isuru Udana while Malinga landed the yorker on the mark to clean up Smith, exacting a personal revenge having earlier been smashed for a six by the No. 4 batsman. Malinga and Udana also sneaked in four tight overs, denying boundaries and conceding only 22 runs from overs 46-49, with the latter picking up a wicket and effecting two run outs. But the earlier damage by Maxwell, when he had managed 22 off an over which left Nuwan Pradeep with figures of 0 for 88 - the most expensive in this World Cup - and Thisara Perera's 10-run final over, helped Australia finish with more than 330.
Brief scores: Australia 334/7 in 50 overs (Aaron Finch 153, Steven Smith 73, Glenn Maxwell 46*; Dhananjaya de Silva 2-40, Isuru Udana 2-57) vs Sri Lanka.