Imperious: Maxwell plays a reverse shot against a helpless Sri Lankan attack. Photo: Rob GriffithAs it happened: Australia v Sri LankaYour team by team guide to the World Cup
When Glenn Maxwell’s Big Show was in full swing it seemed a matter of how far for Australia but in the end the hosts were breathing a sigh of relief rather than celebrating an emphatic victory.
What should have been a regulation night in the office became unexpectedly tense thanks to Sri Lanka’s bold run chase, which had the near 40,000 fans on the edge of the seat for long periods.
The final margin was 64 runs but it may have been as narrow as the tear in Dinesh Chandimal’s hamstring, which thwarted the 2011 finalist just as they were mounting a final assault.
In reply to Australia’s massive total of 376 – the team’s highest at the SCG – the Sri Lankans were in the hunt deep into their run chase after Sangakkara’s 24th one-day international century.
Sparked by a whirlwind 62 from Tillakaratne Dilshan, which included six fours from a Mitchell Johnson over, and a hectic 52 from Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lankans made a game 312.
The victory has all but guaranteed Australia will avoid the double whammy of South Africa in the quarters and a trip to New Zealand for the semi-final.
Sangakkara hit a superb 104, becoming the first man to hit three consecutive World Cup tons and joined Sachin Tendulkar as the only men to have made more than 14,000 runs.
The turning point in Sri Lanka’s run chase came in the 42nd over when Chandimal was forced to retire hurt with a hamstring injury followed by the dismissal of captain Angelo Mathews for 35.
Mitchell Starc was the pick of Australia’s bowlers, collecting 2-29 from 8.2 overs in a game dominated by the bat, while James Faulkner and Mitchell Johnson collected vital wickets.
But the star for Australia was Maxwell, who in the lead-up to the squad announcement was not considered a certainty to be picked.
As well as Sangakkara batted, his ton failed to match the pyrotechnics of Maxwell’s blistering 51-ball century.
In yesteryear, a run-a-ball half-century would have been a good day’s work for any batsman starting his innings in the 33rd over. For Maxwell, it was enough time to hit the fastest one-day international ton by an Australian. It was also the second quickest World Cup ton and 10th fastest in the 44-year history of the ODI format.
An emotional Maxwell revealed he had been addressing a personal issue over the past fortnight during which Shane Watson had been a key off-field supporter.
He celebrated his maiden international ton by looking to the heavens and giving Watson the tightest of bear hugs, just metres away from where his friend Phillip Hughes was felled.
“Having Watto, he’s been there over the last couple of weeks, it’s been a tough couple of weeks,” Maxwell said.
“He’s been with me through thick and thin and I shared a special moment with him out there. Hopefully it opens the floodgates for me a bit and I can stop getting out in the 90s.”
The Australians were by no means in trouble when Maxwell entered the arena but a double strike which yielded the wickets of Steve Smith and Michael Clarke after crisp half-centuries threatened to halt their momentum. The opposite happened.
Maxwell, given lives on 73 and 93, dominated a 160-run partnership with Shane Watson for the fifth wicket.
Watson, batting in the unfamiliar position of No.6, played the perfect foil to Maxwell early before freeing his arms on his way to a bruising 67 off 41 balls.
The all-rounder conceded more than 10 runs an over with the ball though the wicket of Mathews offset some of that damage.
Clarke, who shared a 134-run partnership with Smith, appeared to be inconvenienced by an issue with his hamstring during his innings and had a chat with team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris at the end of the 27th over though no treatment was administered.
Clarke later said there was nothing wrong.
“I felt fine. Just the old age, apart from that all good,” Clarke said.
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