When England whitewashed Sri Lanka in their own backyard before Christmas, the English fans reminded their arch-rivals, Australia, about the result when they last played on the island nation: Australia were on the wrong side of the whitewash – all this despite the presence of Steven Smith and David Warner.
The scars are still there to be seen. That the Australian cricket, especially in the longest format, has been in a downward spiral evidences the fact. Three weeks ago, India became the first team from Asia to register a Test series win in Australia, and that is what Sri Lanka will strive to emulate.
Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh have been dropped following their poor show against India. Joe Burns will open the innings, while Marnus Labuschagne will bat in the middle-order.
Sri Lanka will be without the services of their best overseas batter, Angelo Mathews, due to grade-two strain in his left hamstring. Kusal Perera will replace him.
Let’s dish out the best XI for our fantasy cricket team.
My XI: Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Marcus Harris (c), Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc (c), Suranga Lakmal
In the four-Test series, Tim Paine’s highest score read 41. The only task he performed with distinction was to banter with the opposition. Otherwise, his captaincy and batting lacked teeth.
While Paine was engaged in a war of words, Dickwella let his bat do the talking in New Zealand. His unbeaten 80 in the first innings of the Wellington Test helped Sri Lanka stage a comeback. Not many manage to score runs at a brisk rate like he does, and this superior ability of his helps him bat with the tail-enders.
It’s a pink-ball Test. The ball will move around during twilight. We need batters who have strong technique against lateral movement.
We will pick Harris for his tenacity. He was the second-highest run-scorer for Australia against India. To his defence, it was his maiden series. He is only going to get better with time.
Our second pick from the home team is Head, who scored 19 runs fewer than Harris. He could have scored more runs, no doubt. That said, he won’t change his aggressive approach.
All onus has been on Khawaja in the absence of Smith and Warner. However, barring the 141 against Pakistan in Dubai, he had nothing to boast of in 2018. Come to think of it, the story has been the same for all the Australian batters, that they can do better. It’s about time they live up to the expectations.
Talking about form, Karunaratne has not been at his best of late, especially overseas. There’s no iota of doubt over his talent. It’s his ability to play big innings is why the fantasy players add him in their teams.
Our fifth batter will be Mendis, a player armed with solid technique and patience. It was his unbeaten 141 at Wellington that rescued Sri Lanka from trouble last month.
How can we not add Cummins? He took 14 wickets and scored as many as 163 runs against India. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that he played better than the mainstay batters.
Labuschagne was impressive on his debut. His leg-spin is raw, but the way he batted against India’s bowlers was top-notch. He may as well become permanent in the playing XI if he continues what he does best.
In the series that saw Sri Lanka blank Australia 3-0, Starc was exceptional as he pocketed 24 wickets at 15.16. If he can do that to the Lankan batters on subcontinent wickets, we can imagine what is in the store for this series.
You may either for the experienced Lyon or the newcomer Richardson. However, do not disregard the fact that Lyon took 8 wickets, at Perth, on a track that had a thick film of grass.
The only Sri Lanka pacer we will opt for is Lakmal. His round-arm action and the skill to seam the ball may catch the Australian batters in trance.
Australia have announced their playing, while Sri Lanka will decide on the morning of the match:
AustraliaXI: Marcus Harris, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Lyon
Probable XI for Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal (c), Kusal Mendis, Roshen Silva, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara