The Australians are in Sri Lanka for a near 3-month tour that does sound exciting to both camps for the very newness both sides carry since last meeting in 2011. A 5-year hiatus is a long time to both sides from Tillekeratne Dilshan leading Sri Lanka and Michael Clarke Australia when incumbent Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was then the vice captain. Since then while Australia, manned by a relatively new name in Stephen Smith, basks in the supremacy of the No. 1 Test team in the world, Mathews does carry the atom of experience of 5 years ago.
He would be stealthier this time around having been the host team’s highest run getter with 274 in a 2-match series won 1-0 by Australia. Australia won the ODI series 3-2 while Sri Lanka had the satisfaction of licking the Aussies in the fast paced hamburger version of instant cricket – the 2-match T20 series 2-0. Since then, both sides have undergone changes from the drop out of big names in the game to Australia remounting the summit of Test cricket that they once surrendered to England. But the fact that they have not won a test match in the sub continent since 2011 is an odds against factor to Smith’s charges in what will be a 3-match Test exchanges commencing at Pallekele on July 26.
While Sri Lanka has been walking a tight rope in Test cricket following the retirements of veteran batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara a few years ago, the home advantage plus the demerits of Australia on a barren run on sub continent wickets in a long time does offset the balance. But the presence of their 5 for 34 match winner of 2011 in the first test by 125 runs at Galle in off spinner Nathan Lyon is a reassuring factor to the Aussie camp.
From a Sri Lankan perspective, the Test series that precedes the 5-match ODIs in a change from 2011 when the instant cricket came first, it will be an acid test of strength for a relative new look outfit that lost to England 2-0 recently. While the Sri Lankan squad is yet to be announced, the experimentation of several young hopefuls in England that did give the selectors some satisfaction on an individual curve stirs home expectations. Young right hand batsman Kusal Mendis, a youth find has stirred the blood following some convincing batting performances in England while openers Kaushal De Silva and Damith Karunaratne have lent the type of nucleus upfront for their nt ability to give the side decent starts; a factor the frontline batsmen could not exploit to advantage that was negating in England. The home advantage should be a buffer to inform batsmen Mathews and Vice Captain Dinesh Chandimal, who was the main run getter against the English.
Sri Lanka faced injury problems to its frontline bowlers such as Dhammika Prasad and Dushmantha Chameera in England and their getting back to top fettle is a concern for the host team. Youngsters who staked strong claims for permanency on the ODI stage were Dhanushka Gunathilake, the all-rounder cum left hand batsman and Dasun Shanaka who also gave hints of pinch hitting ability and ability to take wickets. Fast bowler Shaminda Eranga, who made his debut against Australia 5 years ago, will be a conspicuous absentee following his arm action rehabilitation sidelining during the England tour. All in all, the series carries great promise for Sri Lanka that would be looking to pitch several new torchbearers of the game against the might of the Australians. Significantly, the blockbuster image skipper Angelo Mathews carries where he will relish home conditions is a buoying factor for Sri Lankans.
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-