Australia insisted they did not make a mistake by going without a frontline leg-spinner after a six-wicket defeat against a record-breaking Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Australia looked in the box seat after Travis Head helped them to post 291 for six on a slow wicket, before the hosts were barely troubled completing their pursuit with nine balls to spare.
Pathum Nissanka hit his maiden one-day international century with 137 in the chase, while Kusal Mendis struck 87 in a 170-run second-wicket stand with Nissanka before retiring hurt with cramp.
It helped Sri Lanka to complete their biggest chase against Australia, as they went 2-1 up in the five-match series with back-to-back wins against the tourists for the first time in 20 years.
Beyond this bilateral series, however, bigger questions continue to remain around Australia’s bowling structure in the lead-up to the World Cup in India next year. With Adam Zampa back home on paternity leave, Australia decided not to play Mitchell Swepson.
Australia were also not helped by a dewy surface at night after winning the toss and batting, as the pitch sped up and turned less in the second innings.
Matthew Kuhnemann (none for 61 from 10 overs) and Glenn Maxwell were left as Australia’s chief spinners, with Cameron Green (none for 31 off five overs) preferred as a pace-bowling all-rounder ahead of Swepson.
Where Sri Lanka were able to get great purchase out of their wrist spinner Jeffrey Vandersay and his return of three for 49, Australia were forced to turn to Marnus Labuschagne (none for 49) for seven overs of leg-breaks.
“You can always look back at a lot of decisions and wonder what was the right one,” the Australia captain, Aaron Finch, said. “We still felt that was the right combination to go for on this wicket with how slow it looked. You saw in the first half of the game it was very stoppy and turned quite a bit. We thought it would continue to do that but it played a bit better under lights.”
Swepson’s absence also calls into question whether Australia will persist with him in the Test team as a second spinner to Nathan Lyon on turning wickets. Albeit in a different format, he has now played just one of the first three ODIs, with Tanveer Sangha really the only other fit red-ball option on the tour.
Pat Cummins was also rested for the match on Sunday, as Josh Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson bowled tightly but struggled to build pressure. After Maxwell (one for 44) got the early wicket of Niroshan Dickwella for 25, Hazlewood (one for 57) and Richardson (two for 39) caused the only other minor damage late on. But by then, the game was gone thanks to Nissanka.
The right-hander was brilliant throughout, producing the shot of the innings when he advanced at Hazlewood and hit him over mid-wicket for six. He also slog-swept Maxwell for another big six and finished with 11 other boundaries before perishing to Richardson with seven needed.
It came after Head had earlier continued his fine form with the bat, hitting an unbeaten 70 from 65 balls just a week after a century for Australia A.
With Steve Smith out and nursing a minor quad strain, Finch struck 62 and Alex Carey 49 as Australia had to grit and fight their way to a good total.