Since gaining Test status in 1982, over the last 37 years, Sri Lankan cricket has achieved some unique milestones. Our own Muttiah Muralitharan remains the highest wicket taker in the history of the game while two of our batsmen – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – completed the 10,000 run milestone long before an Englishman – Sir Alastair Cook – did so.
As a team too, the Sri Lankans have made quite an impact, having won the World Cup a mere 14 years after gaining Full Membership of the ICC, a special achievement considering that other international teams do not have much to boast about in the early days of their cricket. Yet there are a few things that the Sri Lankans are yet to achieve. Winning a Test match in Australia is one such thing.
The Sri Lankans have been able to get under the Aussies’ skins in their own backyard in white ball cricket on quite a few occasions. Kumar Sangakkara captained the side to a ODI series win down under in 2010 while two years ago the team won a T-20 series there. In Tests, however, Australia remains unconquered. Sri Lanka’s bowling has not been up to the task of taking 20 wickets that would win them a Test match. Australia and India remain the only places where Sri Lanka have not won a Test match to date. Will they be able to create history this time around?
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Cricket Australia has actually downgraded Sri Lanka this time around after their turnovers suffered a massive blow last time. In 2012 when Sri Lanka were in Australia they were given three Tests and were involved in the Boxing Day and New Year Tests as well. The tourists didn’t cover themselves in glory, suffering a 3-0 whitewash with the Boxing Day Test ending inside three days. Australian authorities look for the festive season to cash in and the MCG Test starting the day after Christmas is a huge occasion, but the Sri Lankans failed to turn up, suffering an innings and 201 run loss.
As a result, they have been given low key games at the Gabba and Canberra. The latter in fact will be hosting its inaugural Test match with Manuka Oval in the Australian capital joining big cricketing centers in that country.
In fact 30 years ago Sri Lanka were invited to play the inaugural Test match at the Bellerieve Oval in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart. This will be a momentous occasion in Canberra as well. An impressive show here will help them to regain prime spots such as MCG and SCG when they go down under next time.
Statistics aren’t on their side though. So far, Sri Lanka have played 13 Tests in Australia and apart from drawing two, they had lost all the other 11 games, four of them by an innings and plenty.
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Spin is Sri Lanka’s key weapon and it doesn’t help that they have played just one Test match in the country’s most spin friendly pitch – Sydney.
Champion spinner Muttiah Muralitharan never a played a Test match in Sydney, one of cricket’s most iconic grounds and neither did the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, despite their playing career spanning nearly two decades.
The closest Sri Lanka came to winning a Test match was also in Sydney during their last visit when they went down by five wickets defending a target of 141. A target around 200 would have made that game very interesting.
So, what are Sri Lanka’s chances this time around? Well, there’s very little to choose between the sides with Australia ranked fifth in official ICC Rankings and Sri Lanka breathing down their neck at number six.
The hosts have just suffered a humiliating series defeat against India. The suspensions to David Warner and Steve Smith have weakened their batting significantly and the axing of Shaun Marsh is a further blow.
Provided Sri Lanka put the runs on the board, they will be able to make an impact. The absence of Angelo Mathews is a blow though and local fans will be hoping that Kusal Mendis has not fractured his little finger after taking a blow while fielding at short leg during the warm-up game in Hobart.
They will be banking heavily on opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne and captain Dinesh Chandimal.
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Poor reviewing cost the Sri Lankans dearly during the England series. They were so impatient that in the first innings of the Galle Test both the reviews were gone even before the team’s best bowler Rangana Herath had been introduced to the attack.
No balls were another problem that hurt them in that series as on three occasions batsmen were called back after television umpires detected that the bowlers had overstepped. Worse, the spinners were the culprits. It doesn’t seem that they have learned lessons as on the opening day of the warm-up game there were 12 no-balls.
Australia will be like wounded tigers. Their pride has been hurt after the Indian defeat and they have old scores to settle having suffered an embarrassing 3-0 whitewash the last time they were in Sri Lanka in 2016. An interesting series is ahead.