GALLE: Sri Lanka are looking to inflict more pain on injury-hit Australia when the first match of a two-Test series starts on what looks certain to be a turning wicket in Galle on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka secured a stunning 3-2 victory in the One-day International series last week and the hosts will counting on a bowling attack packed with spinners to give them the edge in the Tests.
Captain Dimuth Karunaratne will lead a side bolstered by the addition of Jeffrey Vandersay to their spin brigade of Lasith Embuldeniya, Praveen Jayawickrama and Ramesh Mendis.
The hosts bowled more than 40 overs of spin in the fourth ODI to clinch the 50-over series, giving a glimpse of what the Australian batters can expect to face in the longer format.
Sri Lanka whitewashed Australia in a three-Test series on their last visit in 2016, but Karunaratne warned that the visitors will have done their homework this time.
“They will also be prepared for our conditions for sure,” Karunaratne was quoted as saying by website cricbuzz.
“It would definitely be not easy and we have to work hard.”
Sri Lanka’s Test cricketers are on a high after a 1-0 series win in Bangladesh last month and victory over Australia would bring some welcome cheer to the island nation which is suffering a dire economic crisis.
Many Sri Lankan supporters at the final ODI in Colombo last week wore Australia’s yellow shirts and held up banners thanking the tourists for visiting the country.
The picturesque Galle stadium, fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean and adjacent to a 16th century Dutch-built fort, is where Sri Lankan spin stalwarts Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath routinely beguiled the touring batsmen.
Led by man-of-the-series Herath in 2016, Sri Lanka’s spinners claimed 54 of the 58 wickets on their way to Steve Smith’s team’s rout when Australia last visited.
Australia’s triumph in Pakistan earlier this year suggests they know what it takes to succeed in Asia, but their vulnerability against left-arm spin means the world’s top-ranked Test team cannot take anything for granted.
Their batters average 21.36 against left-arm orthodox spin since 2016, the lowest of any Test teams except for minnows Ireland and Afghanistan.
Opener David Warner is still looking for his first Test hundred against Sri Lanka while Smith has managed only one century in his last 18 Tests.
A lot will depend on how they perform against the left-arm spin of Embuldeniya and Jayawickrama.
Glenn Maxwell, known for his spin proficiency, could make his first Test appearance in five years should a hamstrung Travis Head sit the match out.
With the left-arm spin duo of Ashton Agar (side strain) and Jon Holland (finger) nursing injuries, Mitchell Swepson will join Nathan Lyon in Australia’s spin attack.
“It’s always exciting having a leggie in the side,” Australia captain Pat Cummins told reporters on Tuesday.
“Especially as a captain, it feels like a real luxury to throw him the ball and see him go about it.”
The onus was on Australia’s middle order to dominate the Sri Lankan spinners, he said.
“Whether it’s Alex (Carey) in the middle, Travis, (Cameron) Greeny or Maxy, absolutely they’ve got the licence to do it their way.”
For Sri Lanka, the batters need to put enough runs on the board to complement their bowlers, and Karunaratne, their most consistent batter, must lead by example.
Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal must also come good with the bat if they are to snatch the Warne-Muralitharan trophy.
The teams will observe a moment’s silence before the first test gets underway in memory of Australian spin great Shane Warne, who died in March. Warne had helped rebuild the stadium after the devastating December 2004 tsunami.
SRI LANKA: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Pathum Nissanka, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kamindu Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Ramesh Mendis, Chamika Karunaratne, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Praveen Jayawickrama, Lasith Embuldeniya, Jeffrey Vandersay
AUSTRALIA: Pat Cummins (captain), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2022