Australia’s defence of the World Cup that they won for the first time in the Middle East last year could not have got off to a worst start.
Going into their opening match against New Zealand as pre-tournament favourites, instead they suffered a heavy loss in front of their home fans at the SCG in Sydney.
Winning the toss, they put the Kiwis into bat, but their much vaunted bowling attack could not prevent their opponents from making 200/3 from their 20 overs, with Devon Conway finishing unbeaten on 92.
Their batting then imploded and they were bowled out for just 111 in the 18th over, succumbing to an 89 run defeat.
Afterwards their captain Aaron Finch admitted that his team had been outplayed in every aspect of the game.
In a group where only the top two teams qualify for the knock-out phases, they are already playing catch-up.
Sri Lanka’s competition looked like it might be over before it even started when they lost their opening group game to Namibia by 55 runs. A comprehensive defeat of the UAE helped restore both hopes and morale, and they were too strong for the Netherlands when it mattered, meaning that they not only qualified for the Super 12 stage, but topped the group.
They were perhaps fortunate to begin their campaign in that stage of the tournament against fellow qualifiers, Ireland, but put on a ruthless display, restricting the Irish to just 128/8 from their allotted overs, and then chasing that down inside just 15 overs, losing just one wicket in the process.
Opener Kusal Mendis, who has already showed some signs of form in this tournament, made an unbeaten 68.
A month ago, Australia’s status as pre-tournament favourites seemed justified. They did lose a three match series in India by the odd match in three, but there were mitigating circumstances. They chose to leave several key players at home, and the conditions were unfamiliar to them.
Two victories over the West Indies indicated that they were back on track, but doubts began to creep in when they next entertained England. They lost the first two games in that series, and were well on the way to defeat in the third, but weather intervened.
Another defeat in a warm-up match with India ensued, and then they ran into New Zealand.
Even the weather has conspired against them. Due to the amount of rain that the country has been experiencing, pitches are greener and slower than they would normally be, offsetting some of the advantages of home conditions.
Suddenly the defence of the title that they won a year ago is looking a lot less assured.
Sri Lanka (Form)
Sri Lanka’s form continues to be inconsistent, but, if their supporters are looking for encouragement, then the recent Asia Cup could serve as inspiration. They lost the first match in that tournament as well, but bounce d back to win five in a row, including victories over fellow Asian heavyweights India and Pakistan. It would appear to be within their compass to go on another winning run now.
Australia v Sri Lanka Head to Head
The pair have played each other in 25 T20Is, and Australia leads their head to head series by 15 matches to ten. Eight of those Australian wins have come on home soil.
In terms of World Cups, the two sides have met on four previous occasions and again Australia have the edge with three wins to one. The most recent of those victories was in the World Cup last year, when they played each other in Dubai, Australia winning by 7 wickets on their way to eventual trophy success.
Even this early in the tournament this has become a must win game for the hosts. Not only did the defeat to New Zealand damage pride and morale, but it left them with another problem in terms of a large negative Net Run Rate.
Sri Lanka will be feeling considerably more buoyant having recovered from this poor start in the competition. In Kusal Mendis they have a better in-form batter, whilst their spin bowling options are as good as anybody’s.
The home side is still expected to win, but they would be unwise, in the extreme, to underestimate their opponents.