Shanaka, who had lumbered to 6 off 12 by this stage, suddenly went into supernova mode. He hit two sixes and two fours off the 18th over, bowled by Josh Hazlewod, then helped plunder 18 off the penultimate over, and 19 off the last, seeing Sri Lanka home in spectacular fashion.
They’d lost the series, but had managed a stunning win in front of what became a euphoric Pallekele crowd.
“It was a huge joy to me to be able to play an innings like that,” Shanaka said. “There are very few innings like that.
“My plan was to hit three boundaries an over in the last three overs. That would mean 54 runs [if all the boundaries were sixes]. With the singles we would get, there’d be a chance. There was a chance it would all go wrong, but I was able to do my best. It was great win – not just for me, but the whole country.”
That win was of particular importance to Sri Lanka, which is currently experiencing the most profound economic crisis since independence, in 1948. Despite financial constraints, the T20Is saw full houses in both Khettarama (for the first two games), as well as Pallekele.
Attendance in the ODIs is expected to be good as well, with the first match to be played on Poson Poya day – a Buddhist holiday.
“We know that people in Sri Lanka are under a lot of pressure,” Shanaka said. “They are not getting the necessities. Despite that they are supporting us a lot. We are really thankful to them for that. We are getting ready to deliver in the ODIs.”
Although Shanaka pulled off a near-miraculous victory in the third match, Sri Lanka’s batting had been weak in the two previous games, at Khettarama. However, Sri Lanka have won their two most-recent ODI series, against South Africa and Zimbabwe, during which their batting in that format was adequate.
“I don’t think we have too many weaknesses,” Shanaka said. “If we take the last two series – against South Africa, and against Zimbabwe – we played well. Our mental state is good. The strength of the batting will decide the series I think, because I’m sure our batters will play well through the series.”