Glenn Maxwell fell agonisingly short of posting the fastest World Cup hundred during Australia’s 64-run victory over Sri Lanka, a result that secured the co-hosts a quarter-final spot.
Maxwell, looking to better the 50-ball ton Kevin O’Brien scored for Ireland against England in 2011, raced to 98 from 48 deliveries in the heavyweight clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
But the batsman – who was dropped on 93 by backpedalling wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara – could only push Lasith Malinga to mid-on for a single from his 49th ball and he subsequently failed to match O’Brien’s record when his 50th delivery went for a leg bye.
However, Maxwell (102 from 53 balls) did wrap up the quickest ODI century by an Australian – 51 balls – and his first in international 50-over cricket as the Baggy Greens posted 376-9, a total they defended comfortably despite a wonderful ton from Kumar Sangakkara (104).
Sangakkara became the first man to score three World Cup hundreds in a row – he also notched three figures against Bangladesh and England – and just the second player, after Sachin Tendulkar, to pass 14,000 ODI runs.
But when he was dismissed heaving James Faulkner (3-48) into the off-side, Sri Lanka were dealt a big blow, and after Dinesh Chandimal (52 from 24) was forced to retire hurt, Australia proceeeded to limit their opponents for 312 in 46.2 overs and leapfrog the Asian outfit into second place in Pool A behind New Zealand.
Australia captain Michael Clarke, fresh from seeing his side clobber a World Cup record 417-6 against Afghanistan in midweek, opted to bat after winning the toss and was in the runs himself.
The 33-year-old (68) and Steve Smith (72) put on 134 for the second wicket following the earlier exits of big-hitting openers David Warner (9) and Aaron Finch (24) within the first 10 overs.
Smith and Clarke departed in quick succession to leave Australia 177-4 in the 33rd over, before Maxwell tore into the Sri Lankan attack during a 160-run stand with Shane Watson (67 from 41), who was recalled in place of Mitchell Marsh.
The man from Melbourne – nicknamed the “Big Show” – brought up his third fifty of the World Cup in just 26 deliveries and had cracked 10 fours and four sixes before he was caught off a Thisara Perera full toss in in the 47th over.
Sri Lanka then collected a flurry of wickets but Brad Haddin’s nine-ball 25 – the veteran drilling nine fours and a maximum – lifted Australia to a formidable-looking total, Malinga the pick of the Sri Lankan bowlers (2-59).
Sri Lanka lost Lahiru Thirimanne (1) early in their reply, the left-hander cramped for room by Mitchell Johnson (2-62) and edged a rising ball through to Haddin behind the stumps.
But Tillakaratne Dilshan then stunned the SCG by pummelling Johnson for six successive fours in his third over as the 1996 World Cup champions’ batting clicked into gear.
Dilshan (62 from 60) and Sangakkara combined for a rapid 130-run partnership in just shy of 20 overs before the former was trapped lbw by a Faulkner slower ball, Dilshan’s review proving futile.
Mahela Jayawardene (19) hit a glorious four over midwicket early in his innings but as he attempted a single that would have brought the century-hunting back Sangakkara on strike, he was run out at the non-striker’s end by Clarke.
Sangakkara smoked Faulkner for three fours in one over as he pocketed his 24th one-day international hundred but the Australia seamer had the last laugh when, with the run rate rocketing up, the Sri Lanka batsman sliced him to Finch at deep cover.
Chandimal carted Australia’s bowlers all over the wicket when he teamed up with skipper Angelo Mathews (35 from 31), but an apparent hamstring injury forced him to exit the field and Sri Lanka’s charge to derail.
Mathews gloved a Watson bouncer to Haddin shortly after, before Johnson, Faulkner and the excellent Mitchell Starc (2-29) polished off the tail with Sachithra Senanayake (7) the last man out, plinking to Xavier Doherty at mid-on.
Australia's Michael Clarke: "Credit to the boys for the way they battled. Watching players around the world scoring so quickly and freely, teams can chase any score now but if we can hold our nerve like that we give ourselves a chance.”
Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews: "We conceded 200 runs in the last 16 overs and it was way too much. We've got to improve in our bowling and fielding. If we can keep the opposition to 300, we can chase it down.