Travis Head looms as Australia’s form batter for the Test series against Sri Lanka after helping the visitors to 6-291 in the third one-dayer in Colombo.
A week after smashing a century for Australia A in a warm-up match, Head anchored Australia’s innings before hitting hard late to finish with an unbeaten 70 from 65 balls.
The knock came at a crucial point, after Australia had lost wickets at all the wrong times and looked set to finish with a score far closer to 260.
Head hit 53 runs from his last 35 balls, including 20 from four balls in the penultimate over from teenager Dunith Wellalage.
The left-hander remains in the best form of his career, having been man of the series in Australia’s Ashes win before a quiet Test tour on the batting-friendly pitches of Pakistan.
Despite the respectable total, Australia’s innings also served as another reminder of the spinning challenge that awaits in the two Tests.
On a wicket that offered plenty for spinners, five of Australia’s six wickets fell to slower bowlers as none of the tourists ever truly looked in before Head’s final overs.
With Steve Smith unavailable due to a quad strain, Aaron Finch hit 62 up top while Alex Carey compiled 49 and Glenn Maxwell smacked 33 from 18 balls.
But it was never easy going as Australia fought to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
On one occasion Finch’s men went more than 70 balls without a boundary, while they also had a 50-ball drought later in the innings.
Sri Lanka used three separate spinners in the opening 12 overs, with Wellalage impressive despite his return of 1-56 and legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay claiming 3-49.
Uncapped in Test cricket, Vandersay beat Marnus Labuschagne (29 off 36) and Finch in flight and turn.
While Labuschagne was stumped by one that went past his outside edge, Finch fell victim to a superb diving catch at first slip from Dhananjaya de Silva after offering an outside edge.
Test wicketkeeper Carey also fell to spin, trapped lbw in trying to lap sweep Dhananjaya.
Those wickets could well have left Australia questioning their decision to go without a frontline legspinner, opting to leave out Mitchell Swepson and play pace-bowling allrounder Cameron Green.
Matthew Kuhnemann and Maxwell will be the tourists’ chief spinners, while Labuschagne will likely to be asked to send down some overs of legspin.
Meanwhile, Finch’s composed 62 from 85 was another crucial innings for the opener.
Under pressure before the tour, Australia’s white-ball captain is yet to strike his first white-ball century in 36 innings.
However he has gone some way to proving his form is returning, with scores of 61no, 24 and 29 in the T20s before his 44, 14 and now 62 in the ODIs.