Match Preview – Sri Lanka vs Australia, Australia in Sri Lanka 2022, 2nd Test

Match Preview - Sri Lanka vs Australia, Australia in Sri Lanka 2022, 2nd Test

Big Picture

There has been plenty of Test cricket recently that you don’t want to take your eyes off. England are changing the way people think of the game by charging their way to fourth-innings targets as though it was the most normal thing ever; while in Galle, the first match of the series was over in less than two days’ playing time as Australia adapted to conditions far better than the home side.

The type of match we saw in the first Test was not a complete surprise – it was always likely the game would move quickly – but the way Australia bossed proceedings when it had been a pretty even contest on the second day, and barely 24 hours later secured victory, was somewhat unexpected.

If they can do it again over the next few days – no one believes the second Test will go close to five – it will complete significant back-to-back triumphs in the subcontinent after the win in Pakistan, and set them up well for the challenge of India next year.

Sri Lanka have plenty of problems to solve, and their difficulties have been exacerbated by a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad which has ruled out four players, although Angelo Mathews, the first case, is available again. Their bowling attack will look considerably different, although that may have been the case anyway after the spinners were unable to keep any control of Australia’s batters.

But they also need their senior batters to step forward. There is no lack of experience in the top order but it was collectively a very poor performance in the opening Test, even though coach Chris Silverwood was not critical of their second-innings approach as conditions became even tougher, having also been able to bat first when conditions were, relatively speaking, at their best.

The bare facts would suggest Australia have Sri Lanka’s number and should be comfortable favourites to take the series 2-0, but the nature of the pitch – if, as expected, it is anything like the opening game – means that form, perhaps, does not play the role it often does. One spell, one collapse, and things can change quickly.

Recent form

(Last five matches, most recent first)

Sri Lanka LWDLL
Australia WWDDW

In the spotlight

Travis Head left a mark on the opening Test… but with the ball. He bagged 4 for 10 in the second innings to hasten the game to its swift finish. When batting, he got a leading edge back to Dhananjaya de Silva early on the second day to continue a run in the subcontinent where he is the one member of the batting order yet to make a significant contribution after not getting going in Pakistan.

Head acknowledged the technical mistake he had made, but is confident he can rebound. “I’ve played well on spinning pitches in Australia,” he said after the first Test. “These are different, I’ve never played on a wicket like that. So it’s another one to take into consideration over the next few days. Talking to the people closest to me, I just need to keep doubling down on that plan, and keep backing it in and try to execute it. When you second-guess yourself or try to change things for the next Test, you get yourself in more trouble.”

With Lasith Embuldeniya dropped and Praveen Jayawickrama out with Covid-19, there appears a strong chance of a debut for 19-year-old Dunith Wellalage, the leading wicket-taker in the ODI series where he showed impressive composure and caused plenty of problems for Australia’s batters.

There is also the intriguing prospect of a debut for Maheesh Theekshana, who has played just three first-class matches – all of them in 2018 – as Sri Lanka search for a way of controlling the run rate. It would be a fascinating look at how important first-class experience is when conditions are at the extreme end, and how specialist white-ball skills – much like Theekshana’s – can translate.

Team news

Dimuth Karunaratne said that the Sri Lanka squad had to get through round of rapid antigen tests before they would know who was available. There will be at least four changes and they will be hoping the Covid-19 outbreak doesn’t go further. Dhananjaya de Silva, Asitha Fernando, Jeffrey Vandersay and Lasith Embuldeniya – with the latter dropped – are out for certain. Although Oshada Fernando was Angelo Mathews’ Covid sub last week, allrounder Kamindu Mendis, who is an ambidextrous bowler, could come into the middle order to cover for Dhananjaya’s spin. There remains uncertainty over the combination of frontline spinners they could choose with Lakshan Sandakan and Prabath Jayasuriya also being considered.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Oshada Fernando/Kamindu Mendis, 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Dunith Wellalage, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Maheesh Theekshana

Australia have kept the option open of bringing in Glenn Maxwell at No. 8 as another spin-bowling option in place of Mitchell Starc. But that will be decided on the morning of the game. That should be the only change.

Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Glenn Maxwell/Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Mitchell Swepson

Pitch and conditions

More of the same – a turning pitch, of course – is expected, unless there is a significant change of heart from the home side. There is again the chance of storms interrupting play, but given the speed the game is likely to move at, it shouldn’t impact the prospect of a result.

Stats and trivia

  • Nathan Lyon, who has moved in the top ten of the all-time wicket-takers, needs seven wickets to go above R Ashwin (442), which would leave him only behind Muthiah Muralidaran as a fingerspinner.
  • The last time Australia won three consecutive Tests in Asia was in 2004, when they beat Sri Lanka and India in four successive matches. And between 2002 and 2004, they had won seven in a row.
  • Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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