Pallekele, Sri Lanka: Ajantha Mendis turned tricks beyond the grasp of six Australian batsmen as Sri Lanka completed an eight-run victory for a 2-0 sweep of the Twenty20 series at Pallekele.
Playing his first, but surely not last, match against the Australians on this tour, Mendis plucked 6 for 16, the best figures in T20 history, including three of the four wickets to fall for four runs in a frenzied 16-ball phase in the middle overs. All this after Shane Watson's belligerent 57 from 24 balls seemed to have set the visitors up for a series-levelling victory.
Those looking for the evening's pivotal point need look only as far as the Sri Lankan vice-captain Angelo Mathews' remarkable feat of athleticism to collect David Warner right on the midwicket fence, then throw the ball for Jayawardene to complete the catch.
Batting first once again, Sri Lanka were unable to conjure the partnerships they managed in game one, but Mahela Jaywardene's 86 provided a centrepiece to stand with Tillakaratne Dilshan's effort on Saturday. Hampering the hosts' batting was an outstanding spell by the tall Victorian John Hastings, who returned 3 for 14 from his four overs. Brett Lee also nabbed a trio of victims.
Watson was close to lbw in the first over of the chase, the umpire ruling that Nuwan Kulasekara's extravagant inswing would have taken the ball past leg stump. After three overs of pace, Australia were rolling nicely at 30-0, but their momentum would increase violently against the spinners.
Dilruwan Perera's first ball was reverse-punched past cover / midwicket by Warner, before Watson began to target the arc between long-on and midwicket in much the same manner as he had done to record-breaking effect against Bangladesh in Dhaka in April.
Five times he cleared the rope, and by the time Mendis' introduction brought a skier and a wicket, Australia needed a decidedly manageable 87 from 85 balls. Watson had not, however, done enough to put the result beyond question.
The Sri Lankans sensed something when Warner followed, brilliantly pouched on the boundary by Angelo Mathews who then threw the ball - in the split-second he had before going over the rope - for Jayawardene to complete the dismissal. Shaun Marsh again looked all out of sorts against spin and was stumped for a duck wandering down the wicket to Mendis, who went on to complete a dual-wicket maiden.
Next, David Hussey played around Rangana Herath to be bowled, meaning the visitors had lost 4 for 4 in 16 balls and were in dreadful trouble despite a manageable required-rate. White and Steven Smith tried to keep their heads from spinning, but were initially unable to do more than poke the slow bowlers around in the face of occasionally extravagant turn.
A pair of sixes to White seemed to push the innings back into a state of health, but as if on cue Mendis returned to bowl a dancing Smith and a groping Brad Haddin off consecutive balls. Mitchell Johnson eluded the hat-trick, but eventually became Mendis' sixth victim. White reached the final over needing 15 for victory, only to be bowled off an edge by Thisara Perera, and the task proved beyond Australia's last pair.
Earlier, having endured a couple of nervy moments, Jayawardene surged through the gears, driving through the covers and then playing an easy pitching wedge down the ground for boundaries. Two more Jayawardene strokes sent the new ball whistling through square leg and point before Lee won an lbw verdict against Dilshan with a delivery that might have flicked leg stump, but that did not stall Jayawardene's flurry of shots.
White used Steve O'Keefe for a solitary over before replacing him with Johnson, just as he had done in the first game, and the formulaic approach suited the Sri Lankans. Jayawardene punctured a packed offside field three balls in a row before White posted a deep cover.
O'Keefe was recalled to the attack as the fielding restrictions ended, and after his over quelled some of the scoring, Smith's introduction reaped a wicket. One legbreak prompted a Dinesh Chandimal squirt to the third-man boundary, then another drew a leading edge and a return catch from the same batsman.
Perera collected one boundary from an O'Keefe misfield, before slicing Johnson to third man, and on 53 Jayawardene appeared rather more lbw than Dilshan had been. However Smith's appeal was denied, and the next ball was swept for six. At times Jayawardene's placement seemed so precise, he seemed to be mocking Australia's fielders, and Kumar Sangakkara soon joined the attack.
Their stand of 46 was broken by Hastings, who followed up a tidy first over by coaxing a miscalculation from Sangakkara. Jeevan Mendis did not last the over before cuffing on, and at 123 for 5 Australia had wrested the upper hand. In his next over, Hastings splayed the stumps of Angelo Mathews, sapping the innings of further momentum.
Dilruwan Perera miscued O'Keefe down the ground, where Smith held an admirable catch diving forward, though Jayawardene remained for the final over. First ball he was caught at short third man but was given a reprieve when the third umpire ruled it a no-ball for height, second he struck another boundary, but the third brought a legside swing and a catch at deep midwicket.
Lee's finish was spoiled by the concession of five wides from what should have been the final ball of the innings, and his error was made more significant by the closing margin of a rollicking match.