The ‘sandpaper gate’ has had quite a heavy toll on Australian cricket. Apart from the suspension of the team’s two best batsmen – Steve Smith and David Warner – the cricket loving public seems to have distanced themselves from the game after the duo, along with opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, were caught red handed. It was evident by the fact that none of the days of cricket throughout the summer except for the backend in Canberra were sold out. Canberra, which hosted the second Test against Sri Lanka is a smaller ground with a capacity of 13,500 compared to other cricket centers in the country.
There was further disappointment as the Australians had lost a first-ever home series to India. The 2-0 series win over the Sri Lankans came as a huge relief. It was a comprehensive win as none of the Tests went the full distance and victory margins of an innings and 40 runs and 366 runs tell you the story. But winning alone is not Australia’s priority at the moment.
“We spoke at the start of the summer about our main priority being winning back the respect of the Australian public and our cricket fans and sitting here now we’ve gone a long way towards doing that,” Australian skipper Tim Paine said at the post match media briefing.
“We’ve probably still got a little bit of work to do but I think we’re on the right track. It’s in difficult times you see the characters you’ve got in your group and it’s confirmed to us we’ve got some good characters, some strong characters and some people we can build a really strong Australian cricket future on,” Paine added.
Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal admitted that his team wasn’t subjected to the relentless sledging that they are used to when travelling Australia previously.
“Sledging has been less this time around,” he said.
Not that the Aussies have made a total ‘u turn’. There was a bit of banter with Nathan Lyon reminding the Sri Lankan skipper that he was in danger of losing his job. Could be true too!
Paine was at it as well. Opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne, who was rushed to hospital after being hit on t he neck by a vicious Pat Cummins bouncer turned up to resume his innings the next day. The Australian skipper made it loud and clear asking for ‘same field guys’. Before telling, ‘Look out for it. 155.’
The number was the reminder of the pace the Aussies were generating. Mitchell Starc at one point clocked 157kmph and passed the 150kmph regularly. Cummins and Jhye Richardson rarely failed to click 140kmph at least.
All in all it was a poor show by the Sri Lankans. Their poor effort at the Gabba maybe pardonable for Australia have been unbeaten here for 31 years. But they had only themselves to blame for the disappointing performance in Canberra.
The Sri Lankans weren’t being fair by Brad Van Dame, the curator at Manuka Oval, who had produced a belter. It was certainly worth much more than the 215 and 149 that the tourists produced.
They had started off brilliantly with the openers adding 82 runs and were looking good to put up a commanding total. Then came that nasty Cummins bouncer to Karunaratne and that psyched up rest of the batsmen. The felling of their premier batsmen created doubts among the rest of the team pushing them to a defensive mindset. Australia had created an opening and didn’t look back bombarding the opposition with short stuff.
Least said about their fielding the better. This was a second string Sri Lankan attack after four bowlers were forced to return home in the space of two weeks due to injuries. Despite the inexperience, they created opportunities and had Australia at 28 for three. Then they lost the way. There were three hundreds in the Australian first innings – Joe Burns, Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson. All three were dropped.
Fielding has been a cause for concern for some time now. The Sri Lankans had brought in Steve Rixon to address the issue in December last year. In Canberra it was evident that they have much more work to do in this regard. As Clive Lloyd once said, ‘catches win matches’.
The 366-run loss was their second heaviest in terms of runs. The worst came in Christchurch in the Boxing Day Test last year. Within six weeks, Sri Lanka had suffered two of their heaviest defeats. Tougher times are ahead in South Africa with the team catching a direct flight from Sydney to Johannesburg.
In Australia, the Sri Lankans had to only put up with Starc, Cummins and Patterson. When they travel to South Africa a quartet of fast bowlers are awaiting them – Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Phialnder and Duanne Olivier. By the end of it all, a few people would have lost their jobs.
All is not well Down Under when it comes to cricket. Australia may have won a series but Sri Lanka are a weak opposition. This is a big year for Australian cricket. There’s the World Cup and then of course the Ashes. There’s little hope that the Aussies will win any of the two. True, by then Smith and Warner will be back in the system. But rest of the batting cannot be termed world class. Australia have lost their way a bit.
Their fast bowling remains top class though. The batting however is fragile. There’s no dearth of talent. Burns and Head are well accomplished players but lack experience which will be key when you go to England.