Test Tantalisingly Poised
A frantic first day in Galle was bought to a dramatic conclusion when David Warner was out to what proved the last ball of the day. Warner's dismissal tipped the momentum the home side's way. In reply to Sri Lanka's bright and breezy 281, Australia lost both openers and with it the ascendancy as they closed on 2/54. Warner was in a typically cavalier mood as he punched and swatted his way to 42 from 41 balls before succombing to a rare prod in the final over. The home side won a crucial toss and whilst they would have loved to have posted closer to 350 after being 2/107 at lunch they remain frontrunners on a pitch already taking substantial turn.
Mitchell Starc and Kusal Mendis again stared for their respective teams on a day of fluctuating fortunes in Galle. Starc produced a wonderful display of accurate, reverse swing bowling and was duly rewarded with 5/44 from his 19 overs. He appears at the top of his game right now and has taken the mantle off the recently retired Mitchell Johnson as the leader of Australia's pace attack. Mendis tore into the Australian attack right from the off continuing from where he left off in Kandy. Mendis reached his 50 from 73 balls, including a couple of lofty blows off Nathan Lyon. Mendis was savage on anything on his legs and drove with authority on his way to a pugnacious 86. His innings looked a class above most of Sri Lankan comrades and may yet again prove the difference in another helter-skelter test match. Often the most gripping test matches are those awash with those mid range scores of between 250 and 350. We appear set for a classic here as Australia look to avoid a stunning series loss in Galle.
Matthews a Typical Modern Day International Batsman and Captain
International cricketers are fearless the way they approach the game these days. Long gone are the days when trick shots were seen as exactly that. I remember way back in the 1994 Mark Waugh being scorned by the nations press for playing a extremely rare reverse sweep and perishing to Phil Tuffnell in Brisbane. Waugh’s gambling instincts and scorn for spinners bowling negative lines were perhaps ahead of his time. Today international cricketers and captains like Brendon McCullum, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and here Angelo Matthews are part of a breed of cricketers that are inventive, fearless and occasionally fraught. Take the slow bowlers on, play your natural game and be damned with the consequences seems like the mantra in 2016.
Matthews strode to the crease and immediately went on the attack trying two audacious reverse sweeps off Nathan Lyon. One lopped precariously just over the head of the point fielder and rattled away for four. A decade or two ago this sort of potential dismissal might have booked you a day or two in the bad books of the back pages as captain of a national side. These days people just shrug their shoulders. Matthews is likely to have practiced that same reverse sweep over 1000 times in the nets. The shot is no longer a trick shot but part of the modern day batsman artillery. The reverse sweep was not seen as a huge risk, rather a way of potentially manipulating Lyon’s field. Matthew’s gambled his way to 54 before falling in typically aggressive fashion.
Holland and O’Keefe an interesting Comparison
It was interesting to note the differences between John Holland and Steven O’Keefe as Holland debuted on the International scene on Day 1. Holland returned the modest figures of 1/64 off 15 overs claiming his 1st wicket in test cricket trapping de Silva in front. Holland is far more a traditional finger spinner or orthodox bowler in this case. His natural, higher and more side on action create lovely looking drop. He is also able to attain a hint of drift and some turn and bounce. He is easier on the eye from a technical viewpoint. He appears to have more strings to his bow then O’Keefe. O’Keefe to the eye looks more innocuous at this level. He bowls with a round arm and flat trajectory. He undercuts the ball and often does not get any turn or drift and creates less bounce. Some of his balls don’t turn and slide on however that in itself creates its own set of problems for the batsman. O’Keefe with his skiddy, flater approach is able to get away with the odd bad ball as it hurries the batsman and they can’t play the horizontal bat shots.
Holland might paint a prettier picture to Okeefe for spin bowling coaches, however the Sri Lankan batsman took him for 4 an over with some ease. They used their feet with authority against Holland with his natural flight allowing them to dictate terms. O’Keefe rarely goes for 4 an over. He has the ability to trap the batsman on the crease with his sliders and quicker deliveries. He thus is able to play the game on his terms with a miserly economy rate. O'Keefe is gold for a captain looking to plug up an end and control a game. His first class record of taking wickets at 25 compares favourable to Holland at 37. That sample size is not small either with both spinners having been around the traps for close to a decade. Whilst Holland may appear the better “spinner” in its purest form that would be doing O’Keefe a dis-service. The numbers don’t lie in this may and things that can’t be measured are character, confidence and the mental side of the game. While question marks remain on how effective O’Keefe’s approach would be against world-class international batsman he retains the upper hand over Holland for mine.
Verdict – Sri Lanka’s day in Galle courtesy of the last ball dismissal of Warner. If they can nab Steve Smith early they will be well on their way to a formidable first innings lead. Result almost certain unless rain intervenes. I think Australia on the back of Smith can scramble their way towards 300 and keep this test in the balance