Sri Lanka have travelled to the land Down Under for a 2-Test series with high hopes of managing their 1st Test win in the country and only their 5th overall Test win over the Australians. The 1st Test, a day-night encounter at the Gabba, will be held from the 24th – 28th January.
Sri Lanka are coming into the series after an up-and-down performance against the Kiwis in New Zealand, losing the Test series 1-0. The scoreline could certainly have been much worse for the Sri Lankans if not for a magnificent partnership between Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis, which saw them to a draw in the 1st Test – a game that was heading towards a New Zealand win at the end of the 3rd day’s play. The pair batted out the whole of Day 4 – the 1st time such a feat had been achieved since 2008.
It was perhaps the only bright spark during the Tests for Sri Lanka, apart from Suranga Lakmal’s brilliant spell of bowling in the 2nd Test which saw him pick up 5/54. Unfortunately for the visitors, Angelo Mathews has been ruled out due to injury, leaving the side’s middle order (which has fired occasionally) a little fragile.
Despite this, Sri Lanka will come into the series with a marginal edge in terms of batting, particularly with the likes of Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne, who were both among the Top 10 run-getters in Test Cricket in 2018, in their line-up. Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella have also contributed with the odd good score during the recent past but have been unable to really go on to make the big hundreds.
Skipper Dinesh Chandimal will be under some pressure, as he has been going through a bit of a lean period since his ton against the Windies in June 2018. But Sri Lanka’s biggest worry will be Karunaratne’s opening partner, with Lahiru Thirimanne almost certain to pad up to face the new ball. The left hander’s average of 23 in 29 Tests is nothing to write home about but Thirimanne does have pleasant memories in Australia, making his maiden ODI ton in Adelaide back in 2013.
The bowling department has proved inconsistent in the recent past, with the pacies and spinners alike unable to find any sort of penetrative form once the shine on the ball has worn off. Suranga Lakmal will lead the pack and is likely to be accompanied by speedsters Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera. Chameera in particular was impressive in the warm-up game and will look to cementing his place in the Test team.
The retirement of Rangana Herath means that Dilruwan Perera will be the lone specialist spinner in the line-up. The off-spinner claimed 50+ wickets last year and will look to learn from Nathan Lyon’s exploits for Australia in terms of the pace and length he needs to be at.
Sri Lanka Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal ©, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya De Silva, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera.
In terms of the bowling, Australia, on paper at least, seem to be well ahead of the visitors. The loss of vice-captain Josh Hazelwood is big, but Australia are likely to replace him with the exciting Jhye Richardson, who had an impressive run in the limited overs fixtures against India. The 22-year-old will be making his debut, after featuring in 7 ODIs and 7 T20Is in the Green and Gold. Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon were menacing during the Test series loss to India but Mitchell Starc may prove to be the one Sri Lanka will need to target, with the left armer struggling to find his rhythm.
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The historic series loss to India has forced Australia to make a few bold changes to their squad, with the hosts likely to hand international debuts to both Kurtis Patterson and Will Pucovski. Patterson was included into the squad at the last possible moment, after making 157* and 102* in the practice game last week. Pucovski is more of an unknown quantity and has played just 8 first class games for Victoria. The pair are set to slot in at the crucial no.4 and 5 positions in the batting line-up.
Joe Burns is likely to return to the top of the order to partner Marcus Harris, while Usman Khawaja dropping down to no. 3, will be the key man for the hosts.
Australia Probable XI: Marcus Harris, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, Travis Head, Tim Paine (C & WK), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Jhy Richardson.
The preparations have been done, the plans set, but it will all come down to how well Sri Lanka can put those plans into action and how quickly they can adapt to the situation of facing who many believe to be the worst Australian side in the last 30 years.
Australia’s defeat to India 1-2 a couple of weeks ago is fresh in memory, but Sri Lanka would do well not to underestimate a team that is notoriously good in home conditions.