When it mattered most, the Australians held their nerve in the cauldron. They also played the key moments of the decider better. Defending a modest target of 231 with great commitment, the host finished at the right end of a tense game to triumph 2-1 in the Commonwealth Bank ODI triangular series finals at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday.

In the end, only 16 runs separated Sri Lanka from Australia. The Sri Lankans fought hard but were let down by the big three in the top-order – Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – who approached a target of 232 as if it was 290-plus.

Had the Sri Lankans paced their innings more patiently – laying a solid foundation was vital – they could have emerged victorious on a sluggish track that suited their brand of cricket. The nature of the score should determine a team's approach during a chase.

Hitting the right length and seaming the ball both ways from an off-stump line, Clint McKay emerged the game-changer. The Man-of-the-Match also mixed his pace and posed searching questions to the batsmen on a track more suited to spin. McKay's five for 28 showcased his heart and craft.

The lanky seamer, fittingly, finished off the innings when he fired out Lasith Malinga with a yorker when seven deliveries still remained in the match. The Australians, jubilant yet relieved, gathered in a heap.

McKay had also batted with resolve. In fact, the defiant 40-run eighth-wicket partnership between Brett Lee and McKay was another turning point of the game.

Then, under the lights, the left-handed Upul Tharanga (71) curbed his attacking instincts for most part and kept the chase going after the Aussies had made serious inroads. He eventually fell to stand-in captain Shane Watson at the death. Watson moved one a shade outside off and 'keeper Wade did well to pouch a low catch.

The pursuit boiled down to run-a-ball in the last five overs. Sri Lanka dug in deep to stretch the innings – all-rounder Farveez Maharoof put up a brave fight along with Tharanga – but the Aussies kept finding the right breakthroughs.

Looking back, the early dents made by Australia swung the game. A pumped-up Brett Lee got an ‘effort’ ball to climb from back-of-a-length. Dilshan, looking to punch, ended up jabbing hard and popping up a tame catch.

Sangakkara appeared in fine touch but fell to a loose stroke. Steaming in, Lee delivered a fuller ball outside off and the southpaw went after it. Watson, timing his jump to perfection, took a spectacular overhead catch in the slips.

McKay removed Dinesh Chandimal with an off-cutter and then struck a body blow. Jayawardene was castled by a length ball that came back from just outside off. Jayawardene should have played forward to the delivery instead of trying to work it on the leg-side.

Under pressure, Lahiru Thirimanne and Tharanga rebuilt the innings. Between period of defence, Tharanga off-drove McKay to the fence. The stylish Thirimanne cut off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Stand-in captain Watson shuffled his bowlers and brought Lee back into the attack but the left-handed pair held on. It was eventually Watson himself who provided ended the association. Thirimanne's (30) uppish cut was well held by Warner at point.

Chamara Kapugedera struggled before nicking a McKay delivery that straightened to a diving Wade. Nuwan Kulasekara unleashed a few hefty blows but Lee prised him out when the Sri Lankan attempted a slog.

Minutes later, it was all over for the islanders.

Earlier, the Australian innings was jolted in the middle overs. Coasting at 115 for one in the 21st over, the host collapsed to 177 for seven in 38. Rangana Herath's left-arm spin and Farveez Maharoof's medium pace – the two scalped three each – rocked the host.

Herath settled into a wonderful rhythm and got the ball to grip and turn. A clever bowler, he harnessed the angles well and brought his variations into play. Among the very few left-armers, who can get the ball to drift and spin away from the left-handers – its his own version of the carrom ball – Herath took out a well-settled Wade (49) with one such delivery. And Peter Forrest was done in by a ball that straightened.

Earlier, Herath, racing to his right at deep mid-wicket and holding on to the ball for his dear life, had done well to hold a slog sweep from Watson off Dilshan.

Maharoof changed his pace and used the crease smartly to create angles. A free-stroking David Warner (48) nicked one that bounced a little more to an alert Sangakkara. The paceman was perhaps lucky to win a leg-before shout against the in-form David Hussey – the delivery seamed back but would have travelled over the stumps.

Malinga had an off-day but Kulasekara and part-time offie Dilshan were tidy. Dilshan also scored a direct hit from short point to run out Michael Hussey.

In the afternoon, Warner and Wade sparkled after Jayawardene opted to chase. Warner's powerful straight hits and whips were compelling. Wade glided, punched and drove the ball into the gaps. Then the game witnessed several twists before Australia nailed it.

Scoreboard

Australia: M. Wade c Sangakkara b Herath 49 (74b, 3x4), D. Warner c Sangakkara b Maharoof 48 (45b, 5x4, 1x6), S. Watson c Herath b Dilshan 19 (18b, 1x4, 1x6), M. Hussey (run out) 1 (3b), D. Hussey lbw b Maharoof 19 (29b, 1x4), P. Forrest b Herath 3 (7b), D. Christian c Jayawardene b Maharoof 19 (26b, 2x4), B. Lee b Kulasekara 32 (54b, 2x4), C. McKay c Maharoof b Herath 28 (32b, 3x4, 1x6), X. Doherty (not out) 5 (8b), N. Lyon c (sub) Senanayake b Kulasekara 0 (1b); Extras (b-2, lb-3, w-3) 8; Total (in 49.3 overs) 231.

Fall of wickets: 1-75 (Warner), 2-115 (Watson), 3-119 (M. Hussey), 4-123 (Wade), 5-135 (Forrest), 6-151 (D. Hussey), 7-177 (Christian), 8-217 (McKay), 9-231 (Lee).

Sri Lanka bowling: Dilshan 10-1-41-1, Kulasekara 9.3-0-40-2, Malinga 10-0-69-0, Maharoof 10-0-40-3, Herath 10-0-36-3.

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene b McKay 15 (27b, 1x4), T. Dilshan c D. Hussey b Lee 8 (8b, 2x4), K. Sangakkara c Watson b Lee 19 (9b, 3x4), D. Chandimal lbw b McKay 5 (7b), L. Thirimanne c Warner b Watson 30 (57b, 1x4), U. Tharanga c Wade b Watson 71 (122b, 4x4, 1x6), C. Kapugedara c Wade b McKay 7 (18b), N. Kulasekara c Lyon b Lee 15 (10b, 2x4), F. Maharoof (not out) 18 (24b, 1x4), R. Herath b McKay 0 (2b), L. Malinga b McKay 6 (9b, 1x4); Extras (lb-9, w-12) 21; Total (in 48.5 overs) 215.

Fall of wickets: 1-23 (Dilshan), 2-47 (Sangakkara), 3-52 (Chandimal), 4-53 (Jayawardene), 5-113 (Thirimanne), 6-142 (Kapugedara), 7-172 (Kulasekara), 8-204 (Tharanga), 9-205 (Herath).

Australia bowling: Lee 8-0-59-3, Doherty 8-0-49-0, McKay 9.5-1-28-5, Watson 7-1-13-2, Lyon 8-0-36-0, Christian 8-1-21-0.

Man-of-the-match: Clint McKay

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