Picture credit: ICC Cricket World Cup/Twitter
A back spasm. A zero in the wins column with his team lingering at the bottom half of the points table. An unpredictable opponent in Sri Lanka.
Adam Zampa had all the odds stacked against him when he stepped out to play Australia's third match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 in Lucknow on Monday. But if anything, the pressure only worked in his favour. The leg-spinner ended up winning the Player of the Match award for a stunning four-wicket haul that helped the Aussies register their first victory of the tournament. A sigh of relief for the five-time World Champions, who didn't get off to the best of their starts this year.
Sri Lanka's blistering start
Openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Perera got off to a flyer, adding 125 runs for the first wicket inside 22 overs. Australia desperately reviewed the very first ball of the innings, only for them to lose the review. Then came a warning stare from Mitchell Starc to Perera, who was apparently leaving the non-striker's crease a bit too early. But no matter what Australia did, the openers were undeterred. It was only the second time that a Sri Lankan opening pair had added 50+ runs for the first wicket in a World Cup game against this opponent. The Aussies needed a revival, and they needed it now. In came Adam Zampa to bowl the 14th over. Once again, Nissanka was on the prowl, putting the bowler instantly on the back foot by striking two fours in the over. The next couple of overs were quiet ones from the Aussie leggie, who wasn't in the best physical shape.
Zampa gets into the groove
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It was Pat Cummins who eventually got the first breakthrough, undoing Nissanka with a short-pitched delivery. He then came back to get rid of Perera with a fullish delivery, as the change of angle meant that the ball went on to rattle the stumps. The floodgates had opened. With two new right-handers at the crease, the Aussie skipper quickly brought Zampa back into the attack. And it worked. Zampa finished the over with his first wicket of the match, the in-form Kusal Mendis falling cheaply to a flighted one on off while attempting a slog sweep. The next over, a juicy googly got the better of Sadeera Samarawickrama, who was trapped right in front. Zampa now had two wickets in his bag, along with the confidence he needed and the comeback his team needed.
Sri Lanka's lower order fell like a pack of ninepins, with Zampa striking yet again to pick a couple more to bundle them out on 209 in 43.4 overs. His 4/47 turned out to be his best bowling figures in an ODI World Cup. It was also the ninth four-fer of his ODI career.
"To be honest, I wasn't feeling great because I had a bit of a back spasm. Was playing through it the last couple of days. My job in this team is to take wickets in the middle order. Didn’t quite do that last game and put the pressure on the death bowlers. Today, I’ve been feeling better, but nice to come out on the winning side today," Zampa said at the post-match presentation while collecting his POTM award.
Aussie batters come to the fore
In response, Mitchell Marsh's half-century laid the foundation for Australia's chase. Steve Smith's rare duck didn't make much of a difference, as his prodigy Marnus Labuschagne took charge alongside Josh Inglis who also got to his fifty in the process. Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis played quick cameos towards the end to seal the deal for Australia in the 36th over, bumping up their net run rate and also getting their first points on the table.