Andrew Fidel Fernando, at ESPNcricinfo, 24 January 2019
Having been three for 58 at the end of the first session, Sri Lanka nosedived in the second, losing five wickets for 64 runs, before eventually crashing to a sub-par 144 not out. In response, Marcus Harris put together a 40 not out, surviving for 25 overs, as Australia scored exactly half of Sri Lanka’s runs for the loss of two wickets, before stumps.
The only man to cross fifty on day one was Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella, without whose 64 off 78 balls, the visitors’ predicament would have been even more pathetic. For Australia, Pat Cummins picked up 4 for 39, but debutant Jhye Richardson was arguably even more impressive, claiming 3 for 26 fom his 14 overs. Among Richardson’s wickets were those of Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Mendis – two key batsmen in the Sri Lanka top order. The ball to dismiss Mendis was perhaps the best of the day, that delivery angled in to the right hander, before leaving him off the pitch, to beat his outside edge and then rattle off stump.
In general, though, Sri Lanka’s batsmen were poor in the face of disciplined – but not unplayable – Australia bowling. There was movement off the seam throughout the day, but Sri Lanka’s inability to account for away-swing yielded several wickets. Lahiru Thirimanne was the first of those, driving at a straightening Cummins ball, moments after he had played and missed at a similar delivery, managing only to edge it to third slip for 12. Dinesh Chandimal followed the next over, giving Richardson his first wicket, as Joe Burns dove across from second slip to snaffle the edge.
Roshen Silva and Dhananjaya de Silva would both then be caught behind, offering thin edges, before Suranga Lakmal and Dilruwan Perera were also caught in the cordon – those lower-order batsmen getting out to Mitchell Starc. Lakmal’s dismissal was in fact the 200th of Starc’s career. He had earlier celebrated the wicket of Thirimanne, on seven, only for the batsman to overturn the lbw decision courtesy DRS.
The only two Sri Lanka batsmen to be dismissed by genuinely outstanding deliveries, were Mendis – who was out to that excellent Richardson ball for 14 – and Karunaratne, who had been cautious for 69 deliveries, before Nathan Lyon dismissed him. Having left judiciously against the seamers, and having played Lyon comfortably for three overs, Karunaratne had a Lyon ball leap at him from a good length, roughly 15 minutes before the tea break. This one took his glove, and was taken by wicketkeeper Tim Paine. Counting that dismissal, Sri Lanka lost six wickets for 68, either side of tea. For 35 balls during that period, they had also been scoreless.
Dickwella was forced to bat adventurously alongside the tail, memorably scooping Starc for six over the keeper’s head the ball before dinner, while also routinely shuffling around the crease to make room on the offside. He reached his half-century early in the third session, but soon holed out to a deep-ish midwicket, off the bowling of Cummins. Two balls later, Cummins had Dushmantha Chameera top-edging a slog to gully, to bring Sri Lanka’s innings to a close.
Although now batting under lights, Australia’s batsmen were more positive than Sri Lanka’s had been, searching more intently for scoring opportunities, which Kumara in particular, served up more often than his team would have liked. Lakmal and Chameera routinely beat the bat, however, and ensured that Australia’s excellent position did not turn into an utterly dominant one.
In the 11th over, Lakmal straightened a ball to Burns, and had him caught brilliantly at second slip by a diving Mendis, for 15. Then, a few overs before stumps, Usman Khawaja chopped on against offspinner Perera, who had also tormented Khawaja in 2016, in Sri Lanka.
Harris had played and missed at plenty as well, and could easily have himself played on against Chameera, but somehow scrapped his way to stumps. His best shot came against Lakmal late in the day, when he cut a short ball beautifully behind point for four. Nightwatchman Nathan Lyon could have been out on the penultimate ball of the day, which was delivered by Perera, but Roshen at short leg could not hold on to the tough chance diving to his right.
Both teams have concerns with their batting, and are coming into the two-Test series on the back of poor records