Failure to defeat Sri Lanka in Wednesday’s fifth and final one-day international in Hobart will see Australia lose the series despite a superb start.
The hosts’ 107-run win in the opener at the MCG when Phil Hughes (112) and George Bailey (89) starred with the bat was less than a fortnight ago but it feels like much longer given the recent dominance of the Sri Lankans.
They have bowled superbly ever since leaving Melbourne, dismissing Australia for 170 and 74 in consecutive wins in Adelaide and Brisbane.
And they were well poised at the SCG on Sunday they restricted their opponents to 9-222 and were 0-14 in response until bad weather brought about a premature conclusion to the fixture, forcing the series to go down to the wire in Tasmania.
Key to Sri Lanka’s form revival has been the bowling of Nuwan Kulasekara (10 wickets) and Lasith Malinga (nine). Kulasekara’s superb in-swing has been devastating and has highlighted Australia’s problems with the moving ball, while Malinga’s yorkers and canny change in pace has also caused several issues.
Australia toyed with a relatively inexperienced side for the first two matches before the likes of captain Michael Clarke, opener David Warner and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade were recalled. But the inclusion of the trio has failed to fire Australia to victory and the pressure is on ahead of Wednesday’s match, particularly with their poor recent record in one-day international fixtures.
The Aussies have won just 10 of their last 28 matches in the 50-over format, losing 14 of them while one has ended in a tie and there have been three no-results.
A wicket conducive to swing-bowling is likely at the Blundstone Arena and for that reason, reserve paceman Jackson Bird who plays his state cricket for Tasmania and is more than capable of moving the ball could be drafted into the Australian team.
He could potentially replace Clint McKay, who has taken two wickets in his last three matches, although he only bowled two overs in Sydney on Sunday. All-rounder Moises Henriques has scored just five runs in his two appearances and is also another player who may be axed.
Sri Lanka are likely to stick with an unchanged side but paceman Shaminda Eranga should come under consideration by selectors and would give captain Mahela Jayawardene an extra bowling option. The tourists came close to gaining a draw in the Test match against Australia in Hobart a clash they lost by 137 runs after being bowled out in the last hour of play on day five.
And they have happy memories of the ground in the shorter format, winning four of their eight one-day internationals in Hobart including two from two against Australia.
While the first of those came in 1999, the tourists beat the Aussies in February last year at Blundstone Arena, winning in the final over after successfully chasing down 281. Peter Forrest (104) and Clarke (72) starred for the Aussies but Jayawardene (85) and Dinesh Chandimal (80) helped Sri Lanka to a three-wicket win with four balls remaining.
Sri Lanka will hope for a similar result on Wednesday and given their recent form, it would be no surprise if they manage to claim victory.