Sri Lanka On the Cusp
Sri Lanka are on the brink of a famous series victory after 21 wickets fell on another seismic day in Galle on Friday. The bedraggled tourists closed the day teetering at 3/25, requiring a distant 413 to win the test match. Australia face the very real prospect of being routed inside 3 days here in Galle as their brittle batting fell apart in both innings on Day 2. Australia can kiss their number 1 Test ranking goodbye as Sri Lanka's spinners once again masterminded this stunning rout. Starting the day at 2/54 Australia could only muster 108 as a Ragana Herath hat-trick fast tracked their demise. Only Mitchell Marsh could offer any real resistance with 27 as Australia gave up a 173 run first innings lead and with it nearly all hope in the test match. Mitchell Starc once again starred with the ball taking 6/50 as Sri Lanka replied with a typically breezy 237. Australia could not even manage to get to stumps without further disaster as Joe Burns, Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja all fell as a jubilant Sri Lanka closed in on a famous victory.
Sri Lanka will now surely lift the Warne-Mualitharan trophy for the first time and in the process claim their first series victory against Australia since 1999. Indeed in the previous 33 years of Test Match cricket between the nations, Sri Lanka had only claimed 1 test victory. Today in Galle they are likely to claim 2 in a fortnight. While Australia's best 2 players in David Warner and Steve Smith remain at the crease they retain hope of a miracle. However reality will probably bite here sometime on Galle in Saturday as Australia face up to another road capitulation.
Australia Heading for 8 Straight Test Losses on the Subcontinent.
It's hard to disagree with Australian coach Darren Lehmann when he pronounced Australia's batting performance in Galle was not up to international standard. Australia are staring right down the barrel of 8 straight test match defeats on the sub continent. That is bad enough however the fact that nearly every one of them have been by embarrassing margins only amplifies things. Australia's woes in Sri Lanka probably should not come as a total surprise as they were routed 4-0 in India back in 2013, and handsomely beaten by Pakistan 2-0 in Dubai in 2014. It makes you wonder whether we all should have seen this latest calamity coming. However the fact remains India and Pakistan are far more formidable opposition then Sri Lanka at least on paper. Whilst Ragana Herath is an outstanding test match bowler the rest of the Sri Lankan spinners which are running riot in Galle are hardly household names.
Coach Lehmann admitted finding a permanent batting coach might have to be bought forward with Greg Blewett missing this tour due to the birth of his baby. Stuart Law is in Sri Lanka on an interim basis, whilst Michael Di Venuto recently departed the role. Surely for tours of the subcontinent Australia must find someone who has flourished in these conditions, whether that be an Australian or a foreigner. Australia were brutally exposed in both footwork and technique here as they were made too look decidedly ordinary. Even a player as high quality as Steve Smith foolishly tried to cut a sliding, arm ball and was bowled all ends up. Surely it is time for the Australian set up under Lehmann to headhunt someone like the recently retired Mahela Jayawardene or Kumar Sangakkara. With Muttiah Muralitharan working with the Australian spinners against his home country it is clear Australia has the clout to pull off such a move. While Australia have enjoyed a relatively prosperous time under Lehmann their dismal record on the subcontinent will be embarrassing for Lehmann. The side at the minute can be considered nothing more then home bullies.
Australia Must Consider Changes for India
Australia will soon return to home comforts with back to back 3 test series against South Africa and Pakistan before and after Christmas. Steve Smith's men remain a formidable outfit at home on hard and true wickets. These same batsman that have failed so dismally in Sri Lanka may well fill their boots back home. The Top 5 are all outstanding players in their own right and you could argue the best 5 in the country. However it might be another false paradise with the powder keg tour of India on the horizon. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin will be licking his lips after watching some of the Australian's dismissals in Kandy and Galle. For mine Joe Burns and Mitchell Marsh are the batsman most under pressure. While Usman Khawaja and Adam Voges have had poor tours there is no doubt they are in the Top 5 bats in the country and deserve to retain their place. However the Australian selectors need to look outside the square a bit here to find the best players in Asian conditions. We often alter our bowling line up to suit overseas conditions but never our batting line up. Which is strange considering out batting has been the cause of the sides woes overseas. Maybe the cupboard is bear in terms of genuinely world class players against spin?
I would be looking at a couple of left field options over the next 6 months. Ed Cowan is an unfashionable type player and not your prototype new age dynamo. However he is a very experienced cricketer that was the only batsman to show anything on Australia's last tour of India. Granted his stats don't jump off the page however he is the type of calm player Australia need at the top of the order. He is a student of the game and I think he an be a player that can soak up pressure and stop these absurd bating collapses. Both George Bailey and Peter Handscomb scored heavily in the Sheffield Shield in 2015/16 and are known as excellent players of spin bowling. For mine Mitchell Marsh is a really talented cricketer, however he is not in the Top 6 bats in the country and not even close to it. Australia will face a similar hiding in India if they can't find a solution and making one or two changes to suit the conditions might be a wise approach.
Verdict - Well My prediction of a close Australian victory appears well off again. Ragana Herath might still be able to push for that 10 wicket haul I thought he was capable of here. Warner has looked in good touch this series and might be able to put up a fight here along with Smith. All in all though Sri Lanka will be celebrating a richly deserved victory sometime today.