Sl vs AUS 2016 , 1st Test – Preview
Overturning a recent poor record against sub-continental sides away from home will be topmost on Australian minds when Steve Smith’s men kick off a three-Test series against Sri Lanka at the Pallekele International Stadium on Tuesday (July 26).
In its two most recent outings, Australia was crushed 4-0 in India in 2013, and beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in 2014, as its failings against the turning ball and the lack of quality spin resources stood brutally exposed.
In a bid to bolster its spinning reserves, Australia has since turned to Muttiah Muralitharan, Test cricket’s most prolific wicket-taker, to work with its spinners. Muralitharan, who retired from the international game in 2010 with 800 Test wickets to his name, has had a tenuous relationship with Australia in the past, which adds greater drama to his willingness to lend his expertise to the Aussies against the country that he represented with such distinction.
Nathan Lyon, the experienced off-spinner, and Steve O’Keefe, the left-arm orthodox spinner who picked up 10 wickets in the Australians’ innings victory over a Sri Lanka XI in their only warm-up game last week, are both expected to feature in a playing XI full of explosive talent and bolstered by the return from injury of Mitchell Starc, the left-arm paceman.
“It’s great to have someone like that helping our spinners in this series, to give us that insight,” said Smith of Muralitharan on his team’s arrival in the island nation. “He’s been really good around the group so far, and he’s enjoying his time with us.”
Australia, the No. 1-ranked Test team in the world, will have taken note of the ease with which India defeated West Indies in the first Test in St John’s on Sunday. Should India, the second-ranked Test team, sweep the four-match series in the Caribbean, it will reclaim the No. 1 ranking.
Sri Lanka, undermined by the retirements of leading run-scorers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, has struggled to hold its own and recently wiped the floor in England, losing a three-Test series 0-2 and failing to register a single victory in the limited-overs internationals. Consequently, it has surprisingly left out Milinda Siriwardana and included three uncapped bowlers, including Asitha Fernando and Vishwa Fernando, the medium-pacers, and Lakshan Sandakan, the chinaman bowler, in the squad for the first Test.
Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankan captain, is under no illusions about the task ahead of his side. “Although playing against the Aussies at home, we all know that they are a tough side,” he said. “While playing against the Aussies we should be brave and play positively, and if we do that we can beat them.”
With injuries to several key fast bowlers, Sri Lanka will be heavily reliant on Rangana Herath, the veteran left-arm spinner, to pick up wickets. But it was its batting which was a big letdown in England, and Mathews will hope from greater support, including from himself, for Dinesh Chandimal, the wicketkeeper-batsman who was the most consistent run-scorer in the series loss to England.
The second Test will be held in Galle from August 4 and the third in Colombo from August 13.