Sri Lanka On Top After Day 1
It was another chastising day for Australia as Sri Lanka reached 5/214 on a grinding first day to the Third Test match in Colombo. Australia started the match all guns ablazing reducing the home side to 5/26 early courtesy of a Mitchell Starc blitz and 2 wickets to Nathan Lyon. However the home side, like in Kandy and Galle, found an unlikely hero. This time it was Dhananjaya De Silva who throated Australia with a composed unbeaten 116 from 240 balls. it was a remarkable display of discipline and concentration crafted over 5 hours in the energy sapping heat. Dinesh Chandimal proved a more than worthy partner as he grinded his way to 64 not out from 204 balls. The pitch took turn after the first hour and, despite a more controlled display from Nathan Lyon and John Holland, they were unable to penetrate an unbeaten 188 run stand from Sri Lanka's number 6 and 7 batsman. After Sri Lanka's openers had continued their disastrous series they again showed fight when under pressure, something the tourists' middle order has been unable to do. Australia really need to restrict Sri Lanka to under 250 here, otherwise you can expect them to be under similar pressure to what they found themselves in at Kandy and Galle.
A Step Back In time
The slow grind in Colombo took us back to a time when Tests could be slow, turgid and gripping affairs. Australia managed to bowl their 90 overs in the allotted 6 hours which was also a rare feat in these times of slow over rates. These days if you don't score 300 plus runs in a day you're accused of go-slow tactics. Batsmen, Captains and Coaches all talk these days about taking it to the opposition, being aggressive, not backing down. Well here showed that the opposite approach still has a place in the modern game. The Sri Lankan pair of De Silva and Chandimal instead grinded and strangled their way to a partnership of 188 runs in over 5 hours at the crease. Barely scoring above 2 runs per over they kept a simple approach. Putting the bad ball away, occasionally rotating the strike and digging in for the long haul. Even if they didn't score quickly, they knew the more time Australia spend in the Colombo heat, the more their legs weary and the more the batsmen have time to fret. If you love old school Test Cricket, well this was a day for the purist. Australia have not even gone close to batting 90 overs so far on this tour, and it will be interesting to see if they can swallow their pride and apply similar methods here. Or whether they will throw all their eggs into the go-hard approach once more.
Dropping Khawaja a Harsh Call
Australian selectors Darren Lehmann and Rod Marsh made a stunning double selection shock dropping both Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja for Shaun Marsh and Moises Henriques. Lehmann admitted the pair were unlucky and that Australia were looking for the best players of spin bowling. Whilst Shaun Marsh I felt was a logical inclusion given his record in India and Sri Lankan conditions, the decision to drop Khawaja for Henriques raised eyebrows. Whilst Henriques is a fine talent, he averages just 31 at Test level and averaged just 15 at Shield level last season. While he scored a probing 80 on debut in India he had twin failures in the 2nd and 3rd Tests in similar spinning conditions. It's fine for Lehmann to say that Khawaja is likely to come straight back into the frame for the home summer. However once you drop a batsman you start playing with their head. It's hard to make a case that Australia are strengthening their batting line up by bringing in Henriques for Khawaja. However Henriques has an opportunity here to put runs on the board. He has always promised much - however injuries and inconsistency have meant a stop/start career. If he can make runs in Colombo, he virtually books his ticket to India early next year.