Sri Lanka’s record in Australia is nothing to boast of – played 13, won 0, lost 11. But they need not be disheartened. It took India 45 years to win their first Test match in Australia since attaining Test status and Sri Lanka have been in the big league for only 37 years. The Sri Lankans might feel that this is their best chance to record the elusive win as the Warne-Murali series getting underway in Brisbane on Thursday.
When India eventually overcame Australia in their backyard in 1977 under Bishan Singh Bedi, there was no Greg Chappell or Dennis Lillee or Rod Marsh or Doug Walters. Australia had brought 41-year-old Bob Simpson out of retirement and had to depend on several second string players after losing the cream of stars to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.
Australia currently find themselves in similar territory. Steve Smith and David Warner their two leading batsmen are serving a year’s suspension along with opening batsman Cameron Bancroft following the ball-tampering saga in South Africa.
To make matters worse, Shaun Marsh has been dropped due to his recent poor form in the longer format of the game but his exploits against the visitors had been ignored. In three Tests against Sri Lanka, Marsh has managed two centuries at a stunning average of 78.
Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal admitted that his side was relieved at not finding Marsh’s name in the team card ahead of the pink ball day-night Test match.
“Of course I am surprised. He has played some good knocks against us and he is a brilliant player. We are happy that he is not there and we would like to think that we have some advantage,” Chandimal told journalists.
Sri Lanka hold the Warne-Murali trophy having whitewashed Australia 3-0 in 2016. But that was at home on dust bowls where the ball spun from day one. The hard and bouncy surface at the Gabba, however, will test their batsmen’s technique. The hosts also have old scores to settle after their humiliating series defeat three years ago and their pacemen are expected to dominate the series.
Both sides are evenly matched given the International Cricket Council rankings. While Australia are ranked five, Sri Lanka are one slot behind them. But Australia will be favourites playing at home.
Traditionally Gabba has favoured fast bowlers and has been a fortress of Australian cricket. They have lost just eight of the 60 games played here and none of the Asia nations have won a game in this ground after 13 attempts.
Sri Lanka’s form has been appalling lately after being clean swept 3-0 by England at home and failing to win any of their six games in New Zealand in their most recent tour. They definitely need to raise the game to achieve their dreams of winning a Test match in Australia. Sri Lankan cricket also has been under a cloud after extensive ICC investigations into corruption in the sport and a win here will help to improve the mood in the camp.
“On my debut, we won our first ever Test match in South Africa eight years ago. It is one of my dreams to win a Test match in Australia. We have to do a lot of hard work to achieve that. This is a good opportunity to create history and everyone has to contribute,” Chandimal added.
Chandimal spoke of two combinations that his team has been thinking of for the opening Test. The first combination will see four seamers featuring in the Test; something they have done very rarely. This means Suranga Lakmal will share the new ball with Dushmantha Chameera, with Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara also featuring. The second option and the more pragmatic one is to leave Rajitha out and bring in off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, the second highest wicket-taker in 2018 with 50 scalps behind Kagiso Rabada (52).
Lahiru Thirimanne is set to make a return to the side having been axed after the tour of India in 2017. He will open the batting with Dimuth Karunaratne.
Australia meanwhile have named two debutants for the game with Kurtis Patterson, who posted twin unbeaten hundreds in the warm-up game against the Sri Lankans in Hobart last week and Western Australian fast bowler Jhye Richardson, who replaced Josh Hazlewood, confirmed to play. Paine has hinted at short ball strategy while, Chandimal and Co are looking to take a leaf out of India's book after their 2-1 win recently. After years of struggle, Sri Lanka would be desperate to get the first one on the board Down Under and for that to happen, the entire team will have to up the ante big time.
"It's definitely a challenge for us, and if you can take this challenge — and as a batsman or as a bowler you give it your best shot and give 200 percent to the team — we can do a miracle here," he said.
"That's what we want to do as a team, and we'll keep our fingers crossed."
Well, they might not get a better chance script that miracle.
Australia Squad: Tim Paine(Captain and wicketkeeper), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Will Pucovski, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Jhye Richardson, Kurtis Patterson
Sri Lanka Squad: Dinesh Chandimal(Captain), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (Wicketkeeper), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, Dimuth Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera.