David Warner has given himself the platform to launch into a big Twenty20 World Cup after powering Australia to a seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
After Adam Zampa’s 2-12 kept Sri Lanka to 6-154, Warner’s 42-ball 65 helped Australia cruise to victory with three overs to spare.
It put Australia in the box seat to advance to the semi-finals for the first time since 2012, with two wins likely enough from games against England, West Indies and Bangladesh.
But almost as important as anything else for Australia will be Warner’s time in the middle.
A known performer in World Cups, Warner entered the tournament with just three runs and 14 balls to his name in the last four months.
But after a poor IPL and a 14 against South Africa in the tournament opener, he looked back in his normal touch against Sri Lanka.
The left-hander was busy throughout on Thursday night in Dubai, facing just nine dots and hitting 10 boundaries as he was particularly strong square of the wicket.
After regaining his rhythm by training on polished concrete wickets, Warner insisted his knock was not about silencing his critics.
Instead, it was the perfect hit out for Saturday night’s heavyweight clash with England.
“It was great to get out there in the middle, spend some time there running between wickets … and getting cricket cues,” Warner said.
“Little things like that just keeps your mind ticking for when you when you’re in those pressure situations.
“In the last sort of six-to-12 months we haven’t played that much cricket so I haven’t been in those situations too often.”
Sri Lanka were also left to rue the worst drop of the tournament, with wicketkeeper Kusal Perera grassing the simplest of chances when Warner gloved one through on 18.
It summed up a horror night for the Sri Lankans, who fielded poorly, struggled to find their length and at one stage had a Dushmantha Chamerra ball miss the pitch entirely.
They eventually removed Warner on the long-off boundary, but by then the game was gone after a 70-run opening stand with Aaron Finch.
Finch had latched onto anything too full or short, hitting 37 off 23 in his own best innings in four months.
He also provided the shot of the night when he jumped down the wicket to a 148km/h Laiharu Kumara ball and creamed it back down the ground for four.
Glenn Maxwell also went for five, but it was only a brief hiccup as Steve Smith (28 off 26) and Marcus Stoinis (16 off 7) saw Australia home.
While Warner and Finch provided the theatrics, it was Zampa who engineered the result.
His 2-12 was the most economical return of his international T20 career, while he turned the match with the wicket of Charith Asalanka for 35.
With Asalanka taking on the quicks, Zampa had him caught on the square leg boundary when he tried to sweep a wrong’un.
In total he sent down 12 dots and was not hit for one boundary, with the built-up pressure evident in the wicket of Avishka Fernando two overs later.
Mitchell Starc was also crucial with his 2-27, bowling Perera for 35 with a vintage in-swinging yorker in the over after Asalanka’s dismissal to stop Sri Lanka’s momentum.