Match Preview : 1st Test: Sri Lanka vs Australia at Pallekele, Jul 26-30, 2016
It is peak monsoon season in the subcontinent, as it is on the islet of Sri Lanka, that has geared up to host Australia for a three-Test series, first of which begins on Tuesday (July 26) at the Pallekele in Kandy. While Australia seek to turn their dismal record in the subcontinent around, it is also an opportunity for Sri Lanka to improve their poor head-to-head tally against Australia, with just one win in 11 bilateral Test series.
The first Test played between Australia and Sri Lanka dates way back to Kandy in 1983. Sri Lanka hosted Australia then, for a one-off Test, which the visitors won comfortably – by an innings and 38 runs. That, in some sense, set the tone for the rivalry between the sides as similar results followed. When the teams return to where it all began little over 30 years ago, Australia, the No.1 ranked Test side, are in with a stiff challenge of maintaining their top status. With a thumping victory by an innings and 92 runs in the first of the four-match Test series, Virat Kohli’s India threaten to usurp them. Steve Smith, who will be skippering his side for the first time in the subcontinent, received the ICC Test Championship mace from David Richardson, the ICC chief, in Kandy on Monday (July 25).
Sri Lanka have had a dismal year so far, with results oscillating between bad and worse. After a mediocre outing in the World Twenty20 in India, their tour to England was as good as forgettable, having not managed a single win across formats. Their only wins came against Ireland, who they beat comprehensively in both One-Day Internationals. They have just one win against a Test-playing nation across formats this year.
Sri Lanka seem to still be coping with the voids left behind by the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. To worsen matters for them, their paceman Dhammika Prasad, who has 75 wickets from 25 Tests, continues to be unavailable for selection for the third consecutive series with a shoulder injury. Dushmantha Chameera’s lower-back stress fractures and Shaminda Eranga’s suspension for an illegal bowling action add to their woes as the onus of the depleted bowling attack rests on the shoulders of the experience of Rangana Herath.
As replacements, three uncapped bowlers – medium pacers Asitha Fernando and Vishwa Fernando, and chinaman Lakshan Sandakan – were named in the squad for the first Test. Uncapped batsman Roshen Silva was also named in a batting unit that relies heavily on Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal.
Australia, on the other hand, with the realisation of the role that spin would play in Sri Lankan conditions, roped in Mutthiah Muralitharan to help the tweakers out ahead of the tour. As a result, both Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe have impressed in the lead-up to the series. Australia might let go off their pace-heavy attack to accommodate the pair. O’Keefe claimed 10 wickets and scored 78 against the Sri Lankan XI in Colombo, a performance which more than warrants a place in the playing XI.
David Warner’s fitness is a concern for Australia, as the swashbuckling opener suffered a finger injury in the ODI tri-series earlier in June, that his side eventually won. If he is deemed unfit, Shaun Marsh, who scored a 75-ball 47 in the tour game will replace him. Marsh also scored his maiden century in Sri Lanka on Test debut in 2011.
In their previous outing in the subcontinent, Australia were blanked by India in 2013. They also, lost both Tests against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014, exposing their weakness in spin-friendly conditions. Come the first Test against Sri Lanka, they will hope to have a better performance against the likes of Herath and Dilruwan Perera, who has 44 wickets in nine Tests.
The pre-series chatter has been minimal, but when the two sides take the field in Kandy, it is only fair to expect a stiff battle. After all, both teams have a chance to turn around their own fortunes, with Australia playing their first Test of the year.
The second and third Test will be played in Galle from August 4 and Colombo from August 13 respectively.
When: Sri Lanka vs Australia, 1st Test, July 26-30, 10:00 LOCAL (10:00 IST)
Where: Pallekelle, Kandy
What to expect: Thunderstorms are forecast on the opening day of the Test with high humidity and precipitation.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal.
Australia XI: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Joe Burns, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Steve O’Keeffe, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges