2nd Test: Australia look to strangle Sri Lanka
Australia surprised many people by outplaying Sri Lanka in their own conditions in Galle, even if the dusty pitch did mean the toss played a significant role in the outcome. Now, Michael Clarke can rack up his first series victory if the team backs up with another strong performance in Pallekele.
Australia surprised many people by outplaying Sri Lanka in their own conditions in Galle, even if the dusty pitch did mean the toss played a significant role in the outcome. Now, Michael Clarke can rack up his first series victory if the team backs up with another strong performance in Pallekele. It's nearly 18 months since the Australians have won a Test series, the last time being on their tour of New Zealand in March 2010. Much has changed for Clarke since then; on that trip, he was followed by tabloid reporters and TV cameras after his much-publicised break-up with Lara Bingle. In one sense, those days must seem a lifetime ago for Clarke, but he's also acutely aware that he hasn't made a Test century since that New Zealand series. But his second-innings 60 was key to Australia's victory in Galle, and he certainly outperformed his opposing captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Dilshan was the prime culprit in Sri Lanka's top-order failure in the first Test. In the first innings he was caught slashing wildly in the second over and in the second innings he disregarded the difficult conditions and left an enormous gate between bat and pad, and was not surprisingly bowled by a ball that jagged back off the seam. It was not a sight that would have impressed one of Dilshan's captaincy predecessors, Arjuna Ranatunga, who dished out a stinging rebuke to the team in the wake of the defeat.
''I'm not really sure if [Sri Lanka] are focused enough to play the longer version," Ranatunga told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I am very disappointed with the commitment of most of the players, in particular I am really worried about a couple of the batsmen and their commitment to the longer version of the game. I think we look much better than Australia on paper, but they are more committed." Ranatunga went on to describe the non-selection of Ajantha Mendis in Galle as "unbelievable", although it seems likely Mendis will play in Pallekele.
Australia will make one change, with Ricky Ponting having flown home for the birth of his second child. That means a Test debut for Shaun Marsh, 28, who will become Australia's 422nd Test cricketer. His father, the opening batsman Geoff Marsh, is the owner of baggy green No. 333.
Also quite new to Test cricket is the venue itself. The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, built for the World Cup, is one of the most picturesque of Test venues, set in the rolling hills just outside Kandy. It's only previous Test was between Sri Lanka and West Indies in December, and it was so badly affected by rain that not even the first innings of the match could be completed.
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In the spotlight
After his performance in Galle, one man will really be in the spotlight in this second Test: Tillakaratne Dilshan. The captain of Sri Lanka let his side down with his approach to batting, but he is a proven Test match performer. His challenge in Pallekele is not only to lead from the front with the bat, but to marshal his troops in the field in such a way as to keep the pressure on the Australian batsmen in conditions that shouldn't suit them.
Ryan Harris is the kind of bowler any captain would want in his team. He keeps going all day, finds movement in the air and off the pitch and most importantly, he takes bags of wickets. In the second innings in Galle, he picked up his second five-wicket haul in six Tests, in addition to the three five-fors he's managed in a 17-match ODI career. Harris nearly 32 and has a chronic knee problem, but for now he's one of the most important men in Australia's side.
Although it was Sri Lanka's batsmen who let them down in the first innings in Galle, it's in the bowling department that changes are most likely. The decision to leave out Mendis, whose varieties baffled some of the Australians in the one-day series, was a strange one, and he should get his opportunity this time. Suraj Randiv could be the man to make way, after he was comfortably outbowled by Rangana Herath in the first Test. And on the day before the Test, Chanaka Welegedara was struggling with a knee injury, which meant Shaminda Eranga was a chance to debut after his impressive efforts in the ODI series.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Suranga Lakmal, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Chanaka Welegedara / Shaminda Eranga.
Australia have already confirmed their starting line-up, with the only change being Marsh to replace Ponting at No.3. That means the minimum possible disruption to the batting line-up, with Usman Khawaja to stay at No.6, although as a top-order player for New South Wales he'd probably have enjoyed being promoted.
Australia: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Usman Khawaja, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Trent Copeland, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditions
After the pitch in Galle was reported to the ICC by the match referee, a more equitable surface is expected in Kandy. The grass will be shaved off, but more moisture is likely, meaning no clouds of dust on the first day, while the assistance for the spinners may not arrive until later in the game.