Burn confirms application for top cop job

Deputy NSW Police Commissioner Catherine Burn has officially thrown her hat into the ring for the state’s top police job, saying she’s been “vindicated” over a police bugging scandal.

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“I would regard it as a great honour and a duty to continue to build on the outstanding progress we have made in recent times by serving the community of NSW as their Police Commissioner,” she said in an official statement.

“But that is for others to decide.”

Her confirmation on Sunday comes one week before the February 26 deadline to apply for outgoing Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s position.

“Under his leadership, there have been significant reductions in serious crime and the public’s confidence in the integrity of the NSW police force has never been higher,” Ms Burn, who has served 33 years in the force, said.

Mr Scipione has brought his retirement forward from July and will step down in early April.

Ms Burn told News Corp Australia she had been “vindicated” over the police bugging scandal and should not be punished for “mistakes” made 18 years ago during an internal affairs operation.

A NSW Ombudsman’s report that found Ms Burn engaged in “unlawful conduct” when she was supervising the management of an informant who breached bail conditions.

She was also found to have engaged in “unreasonable conduct” by pursuing an investigation despite allegations being inaccurate or misrepresented.

“Crucially, the Ombudsman report found that I never acted illegally, I never acted unethically, I never did anything that was deliberate or intentionally wrong and I never had malice against anyone,” Ms Burn told News Corp.

The position for the top job is open to national contenders however, earlier this month, Ms Burn’s rival and former NSW deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas said he was “considering applying” too.

Mr Kaldas also had adverse findings made against him in the Ombudsman’s report over alleged accessing of material and alleged false evidence.

He has the backing of the opposition and the Greens, with NSW Labor leader Luke Foley labelling Mr Kaldas the “the finest police officer of his generation”.

Applications will be assessed by an independent panel of five before going to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Police Minister Troy Grant and cabinet.

Liberals get personal at launch

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has declared his government is rapidly catching Labor with election day just three weeks away.

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Mr Barnett helped officially launch the Liberal Party’s 2017 campaign on Sunday as a new ReachTEL survey showed the ALP and government 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis after the opposition had dominated polling for more than a year.

“I always felt the Labor Party were in front leading up to this election,” Mr Barnett said.

“But as the election goes on my sense is it is getting closer and closer now people are focused on the parties’ policies and candidates.”

There was a personal element to attacks on Labor at the launch at the University of Western Australia, with footage of leader Mark McGowan sweating at a press conference and federal MP Christian Porter using it to repeatedly ridicule him as “slimy” and untrustworthy.

The spectre of disgraced former premier and lobbyist Brian Burke was raised, including Mr McGowan previously having sought his advice and the fact several ministers in the previous Gallop-Carpenter governments lost jobs because of dealings with him.

Mr Barnett and his deputy Liza Harvey attacked Labor for being “mediocre” under Mr McGowan with a shadow ministry that included four former union organisers that would be involved in running the state if they won.

“This government has been a high achieving government in sometimes quite difficult times,” he said.

“People haven’t forgotten that the Labor government when they were in power were compromised.

“I’m comfortable with (personal attacks) given all the abuse I’ve copped from Mark McGowan and others over the years, this is an election campaign, it’s all out on the table.”

There is speculation Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will announce some kind of “floor” in GST revenue, which has fallen to about 30 cents in the dollar in WA, when he joins the campaign on Monday.

The lack of GST revenue WA gets compared to other states was described as the “one major financial” issue by Mr Barnett behind its deficit and debt issues.

After walking out to the Daft Punk song One More Time, Mr Barnett made several election funding promises.

A $110 million live export loading facility south of Perth, stamp duty concessions of up to $15,000 for seniors wanting to downsize homes and a new employer incentive scheme to generate 15,000 apprenticeships.

Better days ahead for Thunderbirds: coach

Adelaide Thunderbirds coach Dan Ryan believes his long-suffering side will go into this Saturday’s Super Netball clash with the NSW Swifts knowing what it takes to be successful after a win over West Coast Fever.

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The Thunderbirds overcame a seven-goal three-quarter-time deficit to finish over the top of the Fever 56-51, courtesy of an explosive 10-1 finish in the final seven minutes.

There is a renewed buzz in the Adelaide camp, with last year’s cellar dwellers currently sitting second on the ladder.

“We went into this game (Fever) with so many unknowns but we leave knowing we’ve got what it takes to be successful,” Ryan said.

“Next week is a whole new ball game but we’ll take the energy from this win and move forward.

“What we’ll take out of this game is we can be really ugly for three quarters and then get it together when it matters.

“The players will see the potential this group has now.”

Pivotal in the remarkable comeback against West Coast was nerveless debutant Gia Abernethy, the daughter of former SA football great Bruce Abernethy.

The 22-year-old was promoted to the senior line-up to replace injured midcourter Hannah Petty and made an immediate impact.

Abernethy’s energy and calmness in the midcourt sparked the Thunderbirds and afforded experienced Chelsea Pitman more freedom at wing attack.

She looks destined for a long, fruitful career.

“Unbelievable,” Ryan said of Abernethy’s debut.

“She gave us a sense of calm in that front line and gave Chelsea Pitman lots of room to work.

“Gia looked like she’d been out in that league for a long, long time.”

Australia reel from last-ball T20 losses

Another last-ball T20 loss guarantees more debate about the Australian cricket team’s schedule.

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T20 captain Aaron Finch said that is for others to decide – all he can do is try to make sure his team rallies for the third and final match against Sri Lanka.

Finch was gutted after Asela Gunaratne produced an outstanding innings and led Sri Lanka to a two-wicket win on Sunday night in Geelong.

He hit the winning runs off the last ball and Australia also lost on the last delivery in Friday night’s game at the MCG.

Finch is leading an under-strength team, with a handful of top players unavailable due to the Test tour of India.

That has led to criticism of the T20 series, with former player Stuart Clark deriding it as the ‘Who Cares Cup’.

“Any time Australia lose there are always questions asked of everyone, no matter what the format of the game,” Finch said.

“All those questions will come up, no doubt.

“It’s well above my pay grade to make decisions like that.

“It’s been a talking point the whole time, when you take out a handful of world-class players, but the guys we have here deserved their spots, absolutely”.

Paceman Jhye Richardson made an impressive debut on Sunday night, Moises Henriques top-scored with 56no and 36-year-old debutant Michael Klinger has scored 38 and 43 in the series.

Ben Dunk also belted 32 from 14 balls in Geelong.

“We’re very disappointed, obviously – it’s a tough loss to take,” Finch said.

“I thought we had enough runs … but credit to Gunaratne, he played a hell of an innings.”

Australia made 173 and then had Sri Lanka by the throat at 5-40, only for Gunaratne to win the game with his unbeaten 84.

“I second-guess every decision that I made out there as a captain … obviously there were a few guys still with some overs up their sleeve,” Finch said.

“But I went with what I thought was the right decision and I will reflect on that with the coaches, talk to some other players as well.

“You also have to be able to defend in that situation as well and unfortunately we didn’t do that.

“A freak innings and a little bit of mis-executing and you get rolled.”

Legspinner Adam Zampa was a surprise omission from Sunday’s team, but Finch said that was purely because of the wet conditions.

Finch also defended the venue after a small crowd of 13,500.

“Being about minus seven degrees doesn’t help and bucketing down with rain all day,” he said.

“But the crowd was still fantastic.

“The surface, after so much of a downpour, was unbelievable (and) the wicket played really well.”

DNA testing for SA cold case murder

New DNA technology will be used to try to crack the cold case murder of man whose limbs were found in an Adelaide drain more than two decades ago.

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South Australian police on Sunday revealed forensic material linked to the 1993 murder of Peter Livingstone has been earmarked for further DNA testing.

The items include several pieces of clothing and a curtain Mr Livingston’s dismembered limbs were found wrapped in when they were stuffed inside a stormwater drain in Marino, in the city’s south, on March 19, 1993, two weeks after he was last seen.

Detective Sergeant Justin Ganley says the murder is still “an active case” and hopes new DNA analysis technology may offer Mr Livingston’s family some peace after years of torment.

“It’s really sad for his family that they don’t have any answers.”

Sgt Ganley says investigative work has not brought them any closer to identifying a suspect, having ruled out several over the years.

Detectives are also yet to establish the killer’s motive but suggest Mr Livingston, then 32, may have been coaxed from his property by someone known to him.

Mr Livingston was due to meet a friend for a drink at a nearby hotel on 6 March but left his property unexpectedly without his watch and only pair of sandshoes.

A fortnight later his limbs were found wrapped in three 1960s-styled jumpers which, in turn, were wrapped in batik-style cloth fashioned into a curtain.

His head and body were never found.

A $200,000 reward has been offered for anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest of the killer, or help in the recovery of his remains.

Sgt Ganley said he found it “callous and cold” in the extreme that someone would be able to “do that to a body”.

Iraqi forces advance towards Mosul

US-backed Iraqi forces have begun moving towards Mosul airport, the first target of a ground offensive to capture the western side of the city that remains under control of Islamic State.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier on Sunday announced the formal start of a ground offensive on western Mosul, asking the Iraqi forces to ”respect human rights” during the battle.

IS militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after US-backed forces surrounding the city forced them from the east in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month.

Iraqi federal police units are leading a northward charge on the Mosul districts west of the Tigris River, aiming to capture the Mosul airport, according to statements from the armed forces joint command.

They captured several villages and a local power distribution station in the first hours and killed several militants including snipers, the statements said.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world,” the commander of the US-led coalitions forces, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said.

Iraqi planes dropped millions of leaflets in western Mosul warning residents the battle to dislodge IS was imminent as troops began moving in their direction, the Iraqi Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive as residents of western Mosul suffer food and fuel shortages and markets are closed, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande said.

Commanders expect the battle to be more difficult than in the east because tanks and armoured vehicles cannot pass through its narrow streets and alleyways.

The militants have also developed a network of passages and tunnels that will enable them to hide and fight among civilians, disappear after hit-and-run operations and track government troop movements.

Western Mosul contains the old city centre, with its ancient souks, Grand Mosque and government buildings.

It was from the pulpit of the Mosul Grand Mosque that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” over parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.

US scientists rally against Trump policy

Hundreds of scientists, environmental advocates and their supporters have rallied in Bostonx to protest what they see as increasing threats to science and research in the US.

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The scientists, some dressed in white lab coats, called on President Donald Trump’s administration to recognise evidence of climate change and take action on various environmental issues.

Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies renewable energy solutions to climate change, said scientists are responding to the Trump administration’s “anti-science rhetoric”.

“We’re really trying to send a message today to Mr Trump that America runs on science, science is the backbone of our prosperity and progress,” Supran said on Sunday.

The Rally to Stand Up for Science in Boston’s Copley Square was held outside of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, one of the first major gatherings of scientists since Trump was elected in November.

Protesters held signs that read “Science Matters”, “Scientists Pursuing Truth, Saving the World” and “Make America Smart Again”.

Some of those who turned out criticised Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency over the objections of environmental groups.

During six years as the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits challenging EPA regulations.

He previously expressed scepticism about scientific evidence showing the planet is heating up and that humans are to blame. However, during his Senate confirmation hearing last month, he said he disagreed with Trump’s past statements that global warming is a hoax.

From Taliban hit list to CEO: Mahir Momand’s journey to Australia

The last time Mahir Momand left Afghanistan there were shots ringing in his ears.

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The microfinancing business he had started in his home country had infuriated the Taliban to such an extent that he was near the top of their hit list.

And someone had tried to tick him off that list.

He was forced to urgently leave the country he loved – for the third time in just 30 years.

Mr Momand has been appointed the chief executive of Thrive Refugee Enterprises, an organisation that will provide microfinancing for refugees starting or expanding their own small businesses in Australia.

“Therefore that program was put under attack by the Taliban.”

He told SBS News his microfinancing business in Afghanistan had angered the Taliban because it was interfering in the group’s business model.

“Effectively what we were doing was cutting from the Taliban’s revenues by not allowing farmers to grow opium and we were also cutting from their capacity to recruit insurgents by getting people who didn’t have any jobs to start small businesses so have jobs, and also we were attacking their ideals by working with 50 per cent of Afghanistan’s population, which is women,” he said.

“And therefore that program was put under attack by the Taliban.

“Myself and my colleagues were put on the threat list and a lot of my colleagues got killed, including my international colleagues who arrived in Afghanistan and were helping us with the microfinance program.”

Mahir Momand talks about why the Taliban targeted his business:

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Mr Momand was born three years after the Russians invaded Afghanistan and forced him and his family into an extended exile in Pakistan.

“At the time when I was born, my father, who was a senior military general in the Afghanistan army, was put in jail, in prison, by the Russians because he was not on their side,” he said.

“We didn’t have support because the head of the family was not there, and my grandparents had to take us [to] the other side of the border to Pakistan, so I actually became a refugee at the age of one.

“I lived in Pakistan until 2001, so about 19 or 18 years of my life I have spent there as a refugee.”

For a man who would go on to become the head of a complex financial company, his childhood education was a struggle.

“I started working at the age of nine and during nights I would go to school,” he said.

“During the day I would work, which was quite difficult because as a child I could see other Pakistani children in their beautiful uniforms going to school, while in my situation I had to sell things I was supposed to sell during the day and then only go to a refugee school during the nighttime.”

Mr Momand’s father was released after six brutal years imprisoned by the Russians, “having his nails taken out a few times and teeth taken out a few times”.

“Every time our colleagues were captured we would receive threats from the Taliban.”

The family eventually moved back to Afghanistan in 2001, after 18 years of living as refugees.

“We went back to Afghanistan just after a few weeks of the American invasion when they overthrew the Taliban in 2001, because we were quite excited we were back to Afghanistan, the country my mum used to tell me very beautiful stories about,” he said.

“We went back to Afghanistan and I started working with the United Nations at that time and then from there I moved on with the World Bank and started that microfinance program.”

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It was the microfinance program that would lead to his second exile from his beloved Afghanistan.

In 2008, pressure and Taliban attacks on himself and his colleagues forced Mr Momand to flee to Canada where he re-evaluated his business.

“When I was in Canada, I was thinking, very naively, the reason I was attacked in Afghanistan was because we were providing loans to people in an unislamic way – we were charging interest – and that was the reason that probably the Taliban attacked us,” he said.

“I thought that there was an Islamic way of doing microfinance, so I went back to Afghanistan and started an Islamic way of providing microfinance, which is very similar, but slightly a different model.

“But because we were still working with those three categories of people and the Taliban still didn’t like it, we used to be called spies of the foreign government, because we had a lot of support from the foreign governments – the US government, the Australian government, European governments.”

The reality of carrying out his work in Afghanistan took its toll as the Taliban once again started picking off his colleagues and staff members one by one.

“I was not only responsible for the operational side of the business, which was quite a large organisation with 1200 employees, 41 credit unions or community banks … I was also responsible for that fact that when every time our colleagues were captured we would receive threats from the Taliban saying if you don’t stop this operation immediately we would kill or slaughter this person, this colleague of yours,” he said.

The horror of seeing the Taliban kill your colleagues one by one:

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“While I had started that whole thing it was beyond my power to stop that whole thing.

“How do you stop an operation with 1200 employees and one million people actually directly benefiting from that program and this being a source of survival for them?

“It’s very hard to stop something like that, and therefore, because we couldn’t stop the program, it meant that every time our colleagues got captured we lost them one by one and it was very hard because it was not only an operational burden in management, but it was also a psychological thing – mental pressure – being responsible for people who were losing their lives.”

Because of his continuing activities the Taliban moved Mr Momand and his colleagues into category one – the highest on the hit list.

“During that period of time 17 of [my] colleagues got killed, captured and killed, and in mid to late 2012 I was personally attacked and that led to my immediate evacuation and departure from Afghanistan and I became a refugee for the third time, this time in Australia,” he said.

“When people become economically active that in turn makes way for social integration.”

Mr Momand’s new role as the chief executive of Thrive Refugee Enterprises is a return to work he is passionate about.

Thrive, supported by Westpac, Settlement Services International and AMES, will provide microfinancing and business advice to refugees keen to start or expand their own small businesses in Australia.

Mr Momand said Thrive would help its refugee clients in three different ways.

First, the organisation will make sure the potential business owners are aware of the Australian business environment, the regulations and the market for their products or services.

Only after that is a loan granted and once the business is up and running Thrive will provide business mentoring and further advice.

The program will also give refugees the chance to attain the positive credit history they will require to apply for mainstream financial services in the future.

But Mr Momand said he saw the benefits of the program going beyond business and financial matters.

“Not only will we be helping people to become financially self-sustainable and financially independent, which means [they’re] less reliant on government welfare funding, but also when people become economically active that in turn makes way for social integration,” he said.

“I know firsthand when you go as a refugee to a new country you don’t have your family and your friends and probably you don’t speak that language and it can be hard to make those social connections, those human connections that are very important in any person’s life.

How Thrive Refugee Enterprises will help build refugees’ businesses:

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“By us providing people with microfinance it is not only economically integrating them into the Australian economy, by creating jobs for themselves and hopefully other people, but it’s also a faster way of socially integrating people into the Australian society.”

Mr Momand said many refugees were used to working for themselves in their home countries and were keen to become business owners in Australia.

“There is this big group of people who come with fantastic experience, they bring in skills with them, they’re bringing experience with them, which needs to be translated into the Australian business market by providing them that initial support they need to understand the Australian market,” he said.

And Thrive’s clients are set to benefit from the experience Mr Momand gained providing microfinancing in Afghanistan.

“I always had this view that when I grow up I would like to help people who are in my situation – and there were many, many people who were in that situation.”

“Because that was at a much bigger scale we can actually bring those lessons, incorporate them right from the very beginning here in Australia,” he said.

“For example, at the very beginning in Afghanistan we just provided microfinance and the result of that actually shows in the repayment rate.

“If you have lower repayment rates and then there’s bad debts, that tells you that probably some of the businesses we financed didn’t do well and therefore they couldn’t pay back.

“Now here in Australia we want to make sure we … provide them that business support initially to understand the Australian market, to make sure that the products and services that they produce, that there’s a market for it … and only then we lend to them, which means there’ll be less of an issue of repayment and that’s one major lesson that we bring from Afghanistan and include it in the model here.”

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Many may ask why Mr Momand continued to return to Afghanistan and continued to work against the Taliban when his life was on the line.

For him the answer is simple and is influenced by his own history as a refugee.

“I always had this view that when I grow up I would like to help people who are in my situation – and there were many, many people who were in that situation – and I always heard very beautiful stories about Afghanistan from my mum, which I obviously didn’t remember because I had left the country at the age of one,” he said.

“That always had created a desire inside me to go back and help people who were like me, who had similar experiences, to go back and help them.

“And that was the reason I went back to Afghanistan from Pakistan very quickly, and I went back from Canada to Afghanistan, and here in Australia now that I know Thrive will be helping refugees who actually I very much resonate with because two-thirds of my life I lived as a refugee myself.

“It means that I can actually see the results of my work in helping people who have had similar experiences as myself, so that is something that very much motivates me.”

But despite his love for Afghanistan there is little hope he will be able to return any time soon.

“It is very hard,” he said.

“I’ve been very close to my mum all my life because the first five or six years of my life I didn’t have a dad, so it was all mum and now I’m away from that, from that very important element of my life.

“Unfortunately the way things are going in Afghanistan in terms of security it is very hard to see that will be sometime soon, but I very much hope for the best.”

What drives Mahir Momand?

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NZ win rain-interrupted Geelong T20

Anna Peterson’s hat-trick trumped Molly Strano’s record Australian bowling figures as New Zealand levelled their T20 series with a rain-affected win in Geelong.

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Peterson bowled her only over at the end of the Australian innings, with the home side needing 11 to win.

The Kiwi spinner took wickets with her first three deliveries, all caught, as the batters went for big hits.

There was also a run-out on the last ball of the game as Australia finished on 9-61 and lost by eight runs under the Duckworth-Lewis system.

New Zealand had made 9-101 from 20 overs and Australia were already in trouble at 3-35 from eight overs when rain stopped play for half an hour.

They needed 35 off five overs when play resumed and never came close.

Asked for her reaction when captain Suzie Bates threw the ball to her for the last over, Peterson said: “I probably can’t say it on camera.

“It (the hat-trick) was a little unexpected, but it was great fun.

“I just had to bowl the ball and the fielders caught it – I only did half the job.”

It was only the sixth hat-trick in women’s T20 internationals and the first by a New Zealander.

In just her second game for the national team, Strano also made history with the best figures by an Australian in men’s or women’s T20 internationals.

Her 5-10 beat the 5-27 from James Faulkner in March last year against Pakistan.

Also, had Megan Schutt held a difficult chance in the deep off the last ball of the NZ innings, Strano would have taken the best women’s T20 international figures of 6-8.

But the result ruined Strano’s personal achievement.

After Australia easily won the first game on Friday, the series will be decided on Wednesday in Adelaide.

“It’s really disappoiinting not to get the win – I’m a really competitive person, I hate losing,” Strano said.

“It’s a bit bittersweet – I was sort of happy at halftime and now I’m absolutely, really flat.

“It was nice to get a few wickets, but I’m really disappointed not to get the win.

“You play cricket to win.”

Despite a first-rate national debut in this series, Strano feels World Cup selection later this year remains a long shot.

“I still feel quite far away from cementing myself in this squad,” she said.

Gunaratne stars with epic T20 knock

Speak softly and carry a big bat.

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Unassuming all-rounder Asela Gunaratne produced an epic T20 innings on Sunday night in Geelong that snatched the match away from Australia’s grasp.

Chasing Australia’s 173, Sri Lanka slumped early to 5-40.

With three overs left, they still needed 48 and then 36 off the last 12 balls.

In those final two overs, Gunaratne mauled Moises Henriques and Andrew Tye with three fours and four sixes, including the match-winning four off the last ball of the match.

Gunaratne’s 84no, his highest T20 international score, came off just 46 balls and featured six fours and five sixes.

More importantly, it was the second time in three days that Sri Lanka had beaten Australia on the last ball of the match, giving them the series win ahead of Wednesday’s third and final game at Adelaide Oval.

Asked if it was his best innings, Gunaratne smiled bashfully and said “yes” in Sinhalese.

He certainly wasn’t shy after hitting the winning runs, jumping for joy and punching the air before teammates ran out onto the ground and mobbed him.

Speaking through an interpreter, Gunaratne felt Sri Lanka was a chance if he could bat through to the end.

He spoke matter-of-factly about the strategy he came up with for the last two overs.

“My plan was to try to close the gap, by getting about 20 runs in quick time,” he said.

“When I got 22 (off Henriques), I felt it was well within reach – so it really worked to what I was thinking.”

Gunaratne again smiled when told how simple he made it sound.

“It certainly wasn’t easy, but you have to come up with some plan and this time, it worked,” he said.

“I’m very happy with what I did – I was planning to finish the match, at all costs.

“The fact we won the series was the greatest satisfaction.”

Teammate Dilshan Munaweera said they were like supporters in the last couple of overs, in awe at Gunaratne’s powerful hitting.

“He made our dream come true because we wanted to win this series,” Munaweera said.

Australian captain Aaron Finch said Gunaratne played “a hell of an innings”

Gunaratne also top-scored with 52 in Friday night’s win at the MCG.

“Geez, he hit some clean, didn’t he?,” Finch said.

“He hasn’t mis-hit a ball in two games now.

“When you have a guy who’s in like that, it’s so hard to defend.

“That was definitely up there.”

The game only attracted 13,500 fans, with unseasonably cold and wet weather obviously a factor.

But a large and rowdy contingent of Sri Lankan expats again were prominent, staying for more than an hour after the match to celebrate the win.