Who knew Bill Lawry had such a fondness for Sri Lanka?
Lawry is a national sporting and media treasure, and the last man standing of Channel Nine's golden era of cricket commentary, but he caught pretty much the whole of Australia by surprise as he willed Sri Lanka on to victory in the second T20 international in Geelong on Sunday night.
It worked too. Whether it was Lawry's urging or some other unstoppable force, Sri Lanka scored 62 runs off the last five overs to pip Australia's total of 173 on the very last ball of the match.
This was the second match of this three match series which has been decided on the last ball. But whereas the chase in the first match always looked to be within Sri Lanka's grasp, and was, this match always looked Australia's. Until it wasn't.
For the turnaround, Sri Lanka can thank Asela Gunaratne, who has been man-of-the-match in both games. On Sunday night, the 31-year-old right-hander scored 84 not out off 46 balls, including -- wait for it -- a personal tally of 37 off the 10 balls he faced in the last two overs.
One more time for effect. After Australia had batted well enough (Moises Henriques top-scored with 56 off 37) and the Sri Lanka chase was going nowhere, Gunaratne suddenly started hitting sixes like Gary Ablett used to kick goals at this famous regional sporting venue.
And somehow, Sri Lanka won. Two were needed for victory off the last ball and Gunaratne hit a four. And the series was down the gurgler, just like that.
Here's a stat for you. Sri Lanka has won all five of the T20 internationals it has played on Australian soil. Eek. They were World T20 champs in 2014, having beaten India in the final, so it's no surprise to see them do well. But still. At the very least, it would have been nice to see a full-strength Australian team in this series.
That, alas, was impossible, given there has been an unprecedented cricket scheduling clash. Australia's Test squad is in India with the Test series starting this week. That means at least half of Australia's best T20 players are unavailable.
If Australia's series loss was therefore hardly a surprise, just as unsurprising was Bill Lawry's enthusiasm behind the mic. He should call every match of Twenty20 cricket, anywhere, ever.
Far less predictable was Bill Lawry's enthusiasm for Sri Lanka's chase. At about the 15 over mark, when you thought it was a forlorn chase, he appeared to be cheering for the game to stay alive -- which is what Channel Nine commentators always do to stem the exodus of viewers in a dud game.
But this was more spirited. With each boundary, Lawry got more and more excited. That's saying something because Bill strikes you as the sort of person who gets out of bed in a pretty upbeat sort of mood, but he really was getting worked up as Sri Lanka edged its way into the match.
"More boundaries," he exhorted. And as though they could hear, the Sri Lankans delivered.
"You beauty!" he shouted, again and again. And again.
It was weird yet enthralling. And it just got weirder and all the more enthralling as a Sri Lankan win went from fantasy to possibility to reality.
Anyway, there you have it. That's what happened at Kardinia Park on Sunday night, in the first ever international cricket match played at the ground. Stranger things have happened, but not many. Oh, and it was 10 degrees too, and everybody in the crowd was wearing four layers and beanies.
That was unusual enough for February, but it turned out to be pretty unremarkable compared to events on the field, and the vibe in the commentary box on a night Australian cricket will prefer to forget but which Bill Lawry seemed thoroughly to enjoy.
We salute his sportsmanship and all-round awesomeness, and hope he had a lovely cup of Dilmah tea after the game.
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