Cricket

Australia overtake Sri Lanka in T20 but small MCG crowd worries Maxwell | Australia cricket team

Glenn Maxwell hopes a poor crowd for Australia’s Twenty20 win over Sri Lanka was more to do with Covid-19 and not the public’s loss of appetite for international cricket.

Just 13,175 people showed up for Friday night’s game, the fourth in the five-game series, making it the lowest crowd for a T20 international ever at the MCG. There were similar turnouts for the first two games of the bilateral series at SCG last week.

After the heights of the blockbuster Ashes series, when large crowds filled the stadiums for all five Tests, the T20s against a largely unknown Sri Lankan side was always going to be a tough sell for Cricket Australia. But the sight of the MCG’s Great Southern Stand being completely shut down as the home side claimed four out of four wins wasn’t a great look.

“I noticed that when I came out for the warm-up, it was probably the first time for an international match that I saw that,” Maxwell said of the famous stand that was not open. “You can understand why people are staying at home.

“We’ve had a pandemic for two years now and people are probably still a little wary about going out. With the end of Covid-19 hopefully so close to being in sight, I hope people can have the confidence to go out and enjoy a good show there.

The crowd would have been much smaller if not for Melbourne’s strong Sri Lankan community. Sri Lankan fans made up around three-quarters of those watching, with the Ponsford stand at the end of town looking more like central Colombo. They returned home disappointed, however, after Josh Inglis continued his impressive international cricketing debut, powering Australia to a six-wicket victory.

The Western Australian has looked comfortable since making his debut at the start of the five-game series and this has been no exception. Continuing Sri Lanka’s mediocre tally of 139 from eight, Inglis and Maxwell (48 not knocked out) set up a game-winning stand of 71 for the fourth wicket after the first three Aussies failed to shoot.

Maxwell presented the winners with 11 balls to spare, with Australia now eyeing a clean sweep in Sunday’s series finale. Inglis was in sight for his first international half-century but was out for 40 after outplaying Dinesh Chandimal behind the stumps.

A noted wicketkeeper, Inglis entered the Australian squad as a hitter-only with veteran Matthew Wade hanging on to the gloves. But his blazing 40-from-20 shot at No.5 will give Australia managers plenty to think about ahead of the T20 World Cup defense in October. The innings added to the 26-year-old’s other scores of 23, 48 and 21 in this series.

“He’s a sponge for information, he takes everything on board from the conditions and tries to adapt to them,” Maxwell said of Inglis. “In Australia it’s probably a little easier to play the spin but his footwork patterns are really sharp, uses his feet well, sweeps both sides making him a handful to tackle a pitch. He’s able to access different parts of the pitch to put pressure on the opposition which is a massive key to dealing with spin in any part of the world.

Australia’s experience of using the all-rounder Ashton Agar to open the batting with Ben McDermott has yielded average results. Finch, one of Australia’s greatest white-ball openers, struck at No. 3 for the second game in a row. McDermott was out for nine years, while Agar struggled to build momentum with his shot and hit a slow 26 from 31 balls.

Sri Lankan fly-half Pathum Nissanka looked the likeliest man up their sleeves, but could never fully fire up on his 46-for-40 shot. Kane Richardson (two for 44) and quick return Jhye Richardson (two for 20) picked up wickets, while Australia’s outstanding work on the pitch led to two run-outs.