Michael Clarke promised plenty of hard work after tasting defeat for the first time since becoming Australian cricket captain full time.
A series victory was on the line but, as well as Australia played in the first two one-day internationals against Sri Lanka, Tuesday’s 78-run defeat in game three was an unacceptable display for Clarke.
Inspired by Upul Tharanga’s 111 off 139 deliveries and then a devastating 5-28 by fast bowler Lasith Malinga, the home team bounced back to bring the series to 2-1 in Hambantota and gain momentum ahead of the final two matches in Colombo on Saturday and Monday.
Not even Doug Bollinger’s excellent 4-42 off 10 overs or Michael Hussey’s typically busy 63 could placate Clarke, who experienced defeat for the first time as captain since taking over from Ricky Ponting after the World Cup.
“We didn’t perform as well as we would like at the start of the innings with the ball, we came back really well with the ball and our batting let us down tonight,” Clarke told reporters.
“We have no excuses, we didn’t perform as well as we’d like, we know that.
“We have some work to do over the next few days because as I’ve said from the start, playing against Sri Lanka, especially in their home conditions, you have to be at your best to beat them.”For the first time this series, Clarke won the toss and it seemed a good call as the ball dominated bat early on.
But after several near misses, Tharanga and Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan (55) settled into a 139-run opening partnership.
Dilshan’s dismissal brought another solid partnership between Tharanga, who scored his fourth ODI century of 2011, just three games back from a three-month drug ban, and Kumar Sangakkara (49).
A disastrous power-play where the hosts lost 3-18 halted the home team’s momentum but a 33-ball 36 by Mahela Jayawardene lifted them to a very competitive 9-286 off their 50 overs.
Australia’s chase started badly, openers Brad Haddin (5) and Shane Watson (5) both falling early before debutant Shaminda Eranga completed a solid first outing for his country by deceiving Ponting (22) with a slower ball.
Hussey and Clarke tried to revive Australia’s hopes but when the captain mistimed a drive off Malinga, straight to Jayawardene to be dismissed for 46, the die was cast.
The home team claimed the final five wickets for just 25 runs, including a sharp overhead catch by Dinesh Chandimal to dismiss Mitchell Johnson (1).
But despite the defeat, Clarke feels his team just has to return to the level of performance they showed in the first two matches to seal the series in Colombo.
“I think it takes exactly what we did in the first two games,” Clarke said.
“It’s discipline. It’s executing your skills both with bat and ball.
“I’m very confident that if we play like we did in the first two games, we’ll win the next two games.”