Hobart: It cannot be easy to take over from a champion, but Peter Forrest made an outstanding start as Australia's No.3 in the post-Ricky Ponting ODI era with a century that helped his side to 6 for 280 against Sri Lanka. Australia's strong performance means Sri Lanka will need to chase a target one run short of the highest ODI chase at Bellerive Oval, and they will need the biggest second-innings score by a visiting team at the venue.
Forrest's hundred was his not only his first for Australia but also in any List A match, and no Australian has scored more in his first four ODIs than Forrest's tally of 238. He brought up his century by dropping the ball into the off side and haring off for a quick single from his 136th delivery, and it brought fist-pumps from Forrest and a hug from his partner Michael Hussey.
He was caught at deep cover off Angelo Mathews in the next over for 104 as he tried to keep the tempo rising and it ended a fine innings. After he departed, the lower-order squeezed out some valuable late runs: Michael Hussey was bowled trying to dab Lasith Malinga fine for 21 from 14 balls, David Hussey finished unbeaten on 40 from 28 balls and Brett Lee chipped in with a useful 20 not out from 15 deliveries.
But this innings was all about Forrest. Almost every time Forrest has walked out to bat in this series he has increased his chances of staying in the side, and his poise at the crease must also have him in the minds of the selectors for Australia's Test tour of the West Indies.
He struck 10 fours and two sixes but avoided risks wherever he could, generally preferring to force the ball through gaps instead of over fielders. When he did go for the aerial route it nearly brought about his downfall, particularly when he pulled a ball that only just landed over the boundary and was lucky not to have been snaffled by the deep midwicket Mathews, who was just a couple of paces too wide.
A cover-driven boundary off Nuwan Kulasekara was especially impressive, zipping off the bat with speed and perfect placement. For much of his innings, Forrest had the support of the captain Michael Clarke, who scored 72 from 79 deliveries during their 154-run stand. But Clarke appeared to battle a sore back late in his innings, stretching on the ground shortly before he lifted Mathews to deep midwicket and was well taken by a tumbling Thisara Perera.
But he had played an important rebuilding role for Australia after they lost both openers early. He muscled two sixes over midwicket, one a flat pull early in his innings off Farveez Maharoof, who had been impressive early, and took to all the bowlers during the batting Powerplay. Australia scored 43 for no loss during that five-over period and the lift in tempo was important after Forrest and Clarke had consolidated.
The innings had started poorly for Australia after Clarke chose to bat, with the departure of Matthew Wade in the second over. He punched a boundary through cover off Kulasekara but next delivery fell for 5 to a soft dismissal, a limp drive that lobbed straight into the hands of Mahela Jayawardene at mid-off.
His partner David Warner didn't regain his lost fluency and failed to strike a boundary in his 13-ball stay. On 7, he edged a good ball behind off Maharoof and Australia were in trouble at 2 for 27 in the seventh over. Maharoof was especially miserly early and none of the Sri Lankan bowlers leaked serious runs. But by the end, Australia had built a total that was likely to provide a serious challenge for Sri Lanka.