Andrew McGlashan in ESPNcricinfo, 30 January 2019, with this title “Australia hunt Test solace against crisis-hit Sri Lanka”
A new Test ground – Australia’s 11th and the second to host its first match this season – brings the international summer to a close with the home side aiming to secure a 2-0 victory and finish a difficult campaign on a high. Sri Lanka, while still clinging to that dream of their first Test victory in the country, would probably take being competitive as a success after their thrashing in Brisbane.
Having come with hope, if not expectation, they folded inside eight sessions and failed to muster 300 in total across two innings. The bowling was better, at least from Suranga Lakmal who continued his good form, but they had nothing to work with. Sri Lanka did, however, keep Australia century-less for the season. The batting difficulties have been front and centre of the last few months and they would dearly like someone to reach three figures. Never in a season of five or more Tests have Australia not scored a hundred.
They might have a pitch to do it on as well with Manuka Oval renowned as one of the best batting strips in the country. That could also give Sri Lanka their best chance of competing, especially if spin plays a role. There is much to play for on both sides: Sri Lanka need to rebuild some confidence before heading to South Africa, which will be another trial by pace, and for Australia this is the last Test they’ll play before the Ashes in August.
Form guide (last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka LLDLL
In the spotlight
Australia are ending the season with two senior players in the spotlight. Mitchell Starc‘s form has been hotly debated while Usman Khawaja has had an underwhelming season which has put pressure on his position. At the start of the season he was the batsman Australia wanted to rebuild around in the absence of David Warner and Steven Smith, but now there is no certainty that he will line up in the first Ashes Test. A dominant performance in Canberra would probably put that to bed, but even when making runs this summer he hasn’t looked fluent.
Kusal Mendis arrived in Australia with a big billing after being 2018’s second-highest Test run-scorer behind Virat Kohli but he had a lean Test at the Gabba. The ball he received from Jhye Richardson in the first innings was terrific, full and swinging late, but his shot in the second, when he was caught in the slips driving well way from his body against Pat Cummins, was poor. Sri Lanka need more from Mendis if they are to get anywhere near enough runs.
Australia have resisted the temptation to bring in uncapped allrounder Marcus Stoinis, sticking with same XI that won convincingly in Brisbane. The quick bowlers were not overloaded there but may have more work this time. Will Pucovski again has to wait for his debut.
Australia 1 Marcus Harris, 2 Joe Burns, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Marnus Labuschagne, 5 Travis Head, 6 Kurtis Patterson, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Jhye Richardson, 11 Nathan Lyon
Sri Lanka’s pace attack has been hit by injury – in total three bowlers have left the tour and now there are also doubts over Lakmal. Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando are likely to come into the side. If Lakmal is ruled out, Chamika Karunaratne would likely debut.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Roshen Silva, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Suranga Lakmal/Chamika Karunaratne, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Vishwa Fernando
Pitch and conditions
The groundsman has promised more life than was seen for the Sheffield Shield match earlier this season, but no-one should be expecting another Gabba which will, without doubt, please Sri Lanka. The forecast is for a fine start to the match with it warming up over the weekend before a chance of some thunderstorms later in the game.
Stats and Trivia
- Not since the single-Test season of 1964-65 have Australia gone without a hundred. Their lowest tally for a six-Test season is four in 1979-80.
- The Sheffield Shield match at Manuka Oval in November 2018 was a high-quality affair involving six players who would feature in the Test.
- In his last six Tests, since the 141 in Dubai, Khawaja is averaging 23.55. Starc is averaging 46.68 with the ball in his last nine Tests.
- Having taken one five-haul in his first 53 Tests, Lakmal has taken two in his last two outings.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can guarantee I can try something different tomorrow. I might go left hand. I do need to try something. I can’t keep doing the same thing and getting the same results. Need to change.”
Tim Paine ponders how to finally win a toss
“We all know the Gabba [pitch] is the most bouncy in Australia and it was a different game playing with the pink ball, but Canberra has less bounce than Gabba, it is similar to our conditions, but at the same time as a batting unit we need to step up.”
Dinesh Chandimal hopes for friendlier conditions