Andrew MCGlashan, in ESPNcricinfo, 22 January 2019
Sri Lanka have never won a Test in Australia, losing 11 of their 13 encounters and many by a considerable margin. On this tour they are without the experience of Angelo Mathews while still adjusting to life after Rangana Herath. However, they may never have a better chance of success down under and here are three reasons why.
The better batting line-up?
Sri Lanka have toured Australia with stronger batting line-ups than this squad – in 2012 their No. 2 to 5 read Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Mathews – but the difference this time is that you could argue what they have is stronger than what the Australians can offer. Even without the injured Mathews there is proven quality in the top order. Kusal Mendis (second) and Dimuth Karunaratne (sixth) were both in the top 10 run-scorers last year and both were above Australia’s only entrant Usman Khawaja (seventh). You would go past two further Sri Lankans (Mathews and Roshen Silva) before reaching Australia’s next-best run-scorer in captain Tim Paine.
If Karunaratne can help soak up deliveries and wear the bowlers down – something he only managed once in four innings in New Zealand – he can lay the platform for Mendis who holds the key to Sri Lanka’s middle order. It is why a shudder went through the camp when he took a fierce blow on the hand fielding at short leg in the warm-up match. How Mendis adjusts to the pace and bounce likely to be on show at the Gabba will be one of the fascinating parts of the series. He showed glimpses on his tours to England and South Africa to suggest he has the game and a month ago batted throughout the fourth day of the Wellington Test for an unbeaten 141. It was against Australia at Pallekele in 2016 that Mendis scored his maiden Test century, a magnificent 176, and if he comes close to matching that here it will cement him among the higher echelons of Sri Lanka batsmen.
Thirteen Tests in the 30 years since Sri Lanka first toured Australia shows that they have not been regular visitors and it means the turnover of players between trips can be high. In the six years since their last tour there has been considerable change. Only three of the remaining current squad – Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal and Suranga Lakmal – were on the 2012-13 visit (it was four but Nuwan Pradeep has gone home injured). Coupled with the brittleness of Australia’s batting, and general lack of confidence, it brings the sides much closer together before a ball is bowled.
Many of this squad will have memories of the 2016 series between the sides in Sri Lanka when the home side prevailed 3-0. As with Australia on that occasion, the conditions on this trip will challenge Sri Lanka but don’t discount good memories of the type their countrymen rarely had in Test cricket. Before that clean sweep, Sri Lanka had only won one Test against Australia – the 1999 encounter when Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie were badly injured. Things will be different in Australia’s backyard, of course, but that brings us to the next point…
Don’t underestimate the pacemen
Pink ball, floodlights, an uncertain opposition batting line-up. Any pace bowler worth their salt would be keen to be involved. Sri Lanka’s attack is led by the experienced Suranga Lakmal who produced a magnificent 16-over spell in the recent Test against New Zealand in Christchurch where he claimed a career-best 5 for 54 overall. Lakmal isn’t quick, but there is some pace alongside him: Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, and Dushmantha Chameera are all capable of giving the speed gun a nudge. Chameera was the pick of them in the first innings of the tour match in Hobart, claiming Matt Renshaw, Marnus Labuschagne and Will Pucovski.
They have also enjoyed success in Sri Lanka’s previous day-night Test where Lakmal, Rajitha and Kumara shared 17 wickets against West Indies in Barbados in what became just their eighth victory outside of Asia and Zimbabwe. Other than Lakmal, and in the absence of Pradeep, the attack remains raw – and with an ongoing issue of no-balls – but they have it in them to cause difficulties for an unstable Australia batting unit.