Trial by spin for transitional Australia

The 'building for the future' theme has been repeated several times in the lead-up to this series, but given how the Twenty20 internationals played out, Australia have more immediate concerns on their hands.

Updated: August 09, 2011 22:38 IST
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Pallekele, Sri Lanka: The 'building for the future' theme has been repeated several times in the lead-up to this series, but given how the Twenty20 internationals played out, Australia have more immediate concerns on their hands. Muttiah Muralitharan may not be around, but his slow-bowling understudies have shown they have enough ammunition to spin the visitors out of control. If Australia are to survive Sri Lanka they have to find a way past the tweakers, and the return of Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey for the ODIs should be a source of great relief in their camp.

The trio's absence from the Twenty20s presented a worrying glimpse into the future of Australian batting. For a brief while during the second match, Ajantha Mendis was as unplayable as he was in his debut summer of 2008, before the world woke up to his assortment of tricks. Shane Watson top-edged a carrom ball, Shaun Marsh sleep-walked past a googly, while Brad Haddin forgot the significance of reaching out to the pitch of the ball. Even David Hussey, reputed to be a good player of spin, perished at the first sign of pressure. Sri Lanka were allowed to build that kind of pressure in a 20-over game. Australia should plan for much more in the 50-over format.

Australia's spin woes don't end with their batsmen though. With 40 ODI wickets between them, Xavier Doherty, Steven Smith and David Hussey won't give Sri Lanka sleepless nights, but their faster colleagues could make up for their inexperience. Brett Lee has been around long enough to carry this attack, while Doug Bollinger is an exciting addition to the side, given his IPL exploits in similar conditions. Add Mitchell Johnson's fire and John Hastings' variations to the mix, and you are looking at a fairly well-rounded seam arsenal. The hosts' ability to counter the fast bowlers could be decisive, with the series promising to evolve into a contest between Sri Lanka's spin and Australia's pace.

Form guide
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Australia WWWLL

In the spotlight

Angelo Mathews has pulled off incredible stunts in the outfield twice within the span of three years, but there is so much more to his cricket than breath-taking boundary-line jugglery. He is, arguably, irreplaceable in the Sri Lanka side - his injury ahead of the World Cup final threw their plans into a mess, forcing three changes in an attempt to balance the side. Mathews continues to feel his way into top fitness, and may not have much to do with the ball in this series but will be critical in the middle order of a decidedly top-heavy batting line-up.

Until Ajantha Mendis' magic show began on Monday, Shane Watson put on a display of such visceral violence that it wouldn't have been out of place in a Quentin Tarantino movie. He clouted five sixes in a nine-ball passage leading up to his dismissal, each bigger than the previous one and threatening the well-being of the viewers seated in the stands in the arc between long-on and midwicket. It is the sort of brutality Watson unleashed on Bangladesh recently, and is capable of deciding games within a matter of minutes. Can Sri Lanka's new-ball bowlers deny Watson the chance to go after spin?

Team news

Upul Tharanga returns to the mix after his three-month suspension for failing a drug test, and is sure to feature in the XI, allowing Mahela Jayawardene to slot back into the middle order. Lasith Malinga is also back in the squad, but will sit out the first ODI as he continues to recover from a back injury. Sri Lanka had five spinners in their side for the second Twenty20, but Ajantha Mendis' brilliance almost rendered the rest redundant. How many spinners will they play this time around?

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis / Suraj Randiv, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Suranga Lakmal / Thisara Perera, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Rangana Herath

With David Warner returning home, Brad Haddin will open for Australia in Shane Watson's company, freeing up space for the returning middle-order troika. Shaun Marsh and David Hussey looked suspect against spin in the Twenty20s, but Australia may be forced to play both in an attempt to delay the start of their tail.

Australia (probable):
1 Shane Watson, 2 Brad Haddin (wk) 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Michael Hussey, 6 David Hussey / Shaun Marsh, 7 Steven Smith / Xavier Doherty, 8 John Hastings, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Brett Lee, 11 Doug Bollinger

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