An inspired performance from Chamika Karunaratne sunk Australia in the second one-day international and sent the Pallekele Stadium into a frenzy, with Sri Lanka levelling the series following a remarkable late effort from the allrounder.
Given a revised target of 216 from 43 overs following a two-hour rain delay, Australia’s batters flopped in a 26-run DLS method defeat on a turning Kandy pitch expertly played by a home side missing their best bowler in Wanindu Hasaranga.
Australia once again had their hopes pinned on player-of-the-match from the first ODI, Glenn Maxwell, who arrived at the crease with 84 off 88 required having guided them home from a similar position in that match.
The right-hander blazed four fours from his first 18 balls, including three in an over from second-gamer Dunith Wellalage (2-25), the impressive teen spinner who left the Aussies reeling at 5-132 after removing the recalled Travis Head (23) and Marnus Labuschagne (18) in consecutive overs.
But the spirited Karunaratne, who earlier dismissed Steve Smith, again intervened; the slippery paceman had Maxwell out skying a hook before pulling off an athletic run-out of Alex Carey of his own bowling to all but seal the match.
He bowled Mitchell Swepson before Dushmantha Chameera (2-19) finished things off by castling Matthew Kuhnemann, as a number of spectators ran onto the field in excitement (and were swiftly dealt with by ground security), with one fan even getting a selfie with the fast bowler.
Kuhnemann (2-48) had made a solid international debut as Pat Cummins snared four wickets in an imposing spell that saw Sri Lanka stumble to 9-220 before heavy rain intervened with 14 balls left in their innings.
The pace of Cummins had earlier proved too much for Sri Lanka as the Test captain hit top gear in his second match back from the hip injury that sidelined him from the back end of the recent Indian Premier League campaign.
Cummins snagged 4-35 while Australia’s decision to go spin-heavy in the absence of any available pace-bowling allrounders paying off with Maxwell (2-35), Kuhnemann (2-48) and Mitchell Swepson (1-58) all enjoying a turning track.
The performance of Kuhnemann, who only arrived in Kandy this morning having been pulled (along with fellow overnight A-to-ODI-squad traveller Head) from the Australia A game in Hambantota, was particularly encouraging in the absence of lead spinners Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa.
With the Aussies batting under lights in front of another enthusiastic Pallekele crowd, Dhananjaya de Silva’s off-spin accounted for both Australian openers before Steve Smith (28) departed with Australia still 123 runs still adrift of their readjusted target.
Smith, who barely missed the middle of the bat in his 35-ball cameo despite requiring multiple mid-innings visits from the physio, was devastated to have found short fine-leg with a miscued hook.
Australia’s loss leaves the series ledger at 1-1 going into the final three matches in Colombo.
Kuhnemann hardly had time to catch his breath between his arrival in Kandy, the confirmation of his debut and the presentation of his cap by from fellow Queenslander Labuschagne, before he was thrown the brand new ball by Aaron Finch after the skipper’s call at the toss to field first.