Australia has kept alive its hopes of winning another T20 World Cup with a nail-biting victory against Sri Lanka in Perth on Monday night.
But the nervy performance will do little to convince opposition teams that the world No.1 side is unbeatable.
The hosts reached 5-123 to win with three balls to spare, thanks to the composure of skipper Meg Lanning (41 not out from 44 balls) and vice-captain Rachael Haynes (60 off 47 balls), who needed all of their experience to steady the ship and steer the hosts to the must-win result.
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) February 24, 2020
Set a chase of 123 from its 20 overs, Australia got off to the worst possible start when Alyssa Healy was bowled by Udeshika Prabodani for 0 from the second ball of the innings.
Ashleigh Gardner (2) suffered the same fate at the end of the third over to leave the hosts at 2-8, before Shashikala Siriwardena amplified the nerves by having left-handed opener Beth Mooney (6) stumped by Anushka Sanjeewani to reduce Australia to 3-10.
“I actually was feeling OK, particularly walking out there,” Haynes said of the early collapse.
“I’m pretty fortunate that one of the best batters in the world is standing at the other end. Meg and I have played a lot of cricket together.
“We knew it was just a matter of calming things down and getting a really good partnership together. I think we were able to consolidate and do that.”
But it didn’t come without issues.
Sri Lanka would have been cursing its luck after burning an early review, which meant they couldn’t review Lanning’s edge behind when she was on 15.
‘We thought the first one was edged but unfortunately we lost the review. And the second one was out, I think,” Sri Lanka captain Chamari Atapattu said.
Haynes successfully reviewed an leg before wicket decision when 15, with replays showing an inside edge.
She also received a slice of luck on 26 when dropped at mid-on by Umesha Thimashini.
At the halfway mark of the innings, Australia was 3-45, still requiring 78 runs off 60 balls.
But Lanning, who was playing her 100th T20 international, and Haynes did what was needed in their 95-run stand to turn the momentum Australia’s way.
Ellyse Perry was the other not-out batter, scoring the winning runs to finish on five from four balls.
A superb half-century by Sri Lankan captain Chamari Athapaththu.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) February 24, 2020
Earlier, Sri Lanka opener Atapattu cracked an imperious 50 off 38 balls, including seven fours and two sixes, to lift her side to 6-122 at the WACA Ground.
Atapattu was well supported by Anushka Sanjeewani (25) and Umesha Thimashini (20).
Tight bowling by star all-rounder Ellyse Perry and Jess Jonassen restricted Sri Lanka to 31 runs in the final six overs after it was poised for a much bigger score at 3-91 after 14 overs.
Molly Strano (2-23) and Nicola Carey (2-18) also snared two wickets apiece to restrict Sri Lanka.
The forecast rain and the mercurial Atapattu loomed as Australia’s two biggest threats leading into the match, but sunshine greeted the players when the match began at 3pm local time.
Australia’s loss to India on Friday night means the defending champions will probably need to win their remaining three group games to reach the semi-finals.
Even then, its fate might be decided by net run rate.
Australia next plays Bangladesh under lights at Canberra’s Manuka Oval on Thursday.
Sri Lanka heads to Melbourne to take on India at Junction Oval on Saturday.