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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clarke and, yet again, Hussey bat Sri Lanka out of match and series: T3D5

Australia 316 & 488 (138.5 ov, Hughes 126, Clarke 112, Hussey 93, Herath 7/157) drew with Sri Lanka 473 & 0/7 ( 2 ov): T3D5 at Colombo (SSC). Australia win series 1-0 and retain Warne-Muralitharan Trophy.

A not unexpected match result after five days and a good series win for Australia (though not one I'd expected).

When Phil Hughes was out early for 126/220b (1x6, 16x4), Sri Lanka may have sniffed an unlikely victory in the air. But Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey dispelled any such thoughts by batting to lunch and then more than an hour beyond, adding 176 from 38 overs, until at 396 and the match saved Clarke was out. His 112/178b (3x6, 14x4) was his highest score for some time, and made in a refreshingly forthright way. This and his 60 in T1 at Galle should silence those who've doubted that he's worth a place in the team (or who've sneered at him dropping himself to no5).

And Mr Cricket. Dismissed for his second ninety of the series, 93/138b (1x6, 11x4), the most consistent and most effective (cf Angelo Mathews) batsman on either side (493 runs), an excellent fielder and, by virtue of two wickets, top of the bowling averages. Unquestionably Player of the Series and deservedly Player of this Match.

Sri Lanka plugged away (or tried to plug the gaps in the field) . With only one frontline spinner they lacked the kind of firepower needed to keep the pressure on Australia. Even so Rangana Herath's herculean 52-11-157-7 shouldn't go unmentioned or unappreciated. He did well to regroup, admittedly on what was a more favourable pitch, after an ordinary performance in the first innings.

So Australia are now the fourth ranked Test nation in the world. In the coming months their opponents will include the higher ranked South Africa (in a piddling two match away series) and India (four Tests at home). Interesting, though after the Sri Lanka series more hopeful, times perhaps.


PS Interesting to hear (and see)  ABC commentator Jim Maxwell filling in for Tony Greig on the coverage from Sri Lanka. He did a good job and showed, as if it needed to be, that high level cricket experience is not an essential requirement for the job.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dilatory Sri Lankan batting + Hughes century= draw likely T3D4

Australia 316 and 3/209  (68ov, Hughes 122*) lead Sri Lanka 473 (174 ov, Mathews 105*, Dilshan 83, Sangakkara 79, M Jayawardene 51, Siddle 4/91) by 52 runs with 7 second inns wickets in hand: T3D4 at Colombo (SSC)

With a day to play Sri Lanka could still conceivably win. But to do so they'll need to show much more energy with the ball in the first session of D5 than they did with the bat in the first session of D4, when they built on a handy lead by laboriously batting for 19 overs to add 45 runs.

Angelo Mathews was both the chief culprit and the chief beneficiary: he did make his maiden Test century but, ignoring many opportunities to take runs, spent 42 balls adding 20, to end with 105*/269b (10x4). Yes, he's made a couple of Test 90s, but this was will probably turn out to be a match-saving innings when a match-winning one was needed.

A word about Peter Siddle. He bowled 35 wholehearted overs in what by all reports was sapping heat for 4/91 and must now be a serious contender for a place (Mitchell Johnson's?) in the starting lineup for the Tests (can two matches really be called a "series"?) in South Africa.

Phil Hughes, in what must have been his last chance this time around, led Australia's response. The pitch continued to play well - until Rangana Herath came on to bowl left arm over the wicket. He had Shane Watson lbw on review, Shaun Marsh adjudged caught at short leg, but bizarrely (as replays clearly showed ball missing bat) not reviewing, and Ricky Ponting caught at slip off a ball which turned, bounced and took the glove.

At stumps Hughes was 122*/202b (1x6, 16x4). After Watson went he kept the innings moving as both Marsh and Ponting played themselves in. He played some elegant drives and defended watchfully, if a tad inelegantly (as when on 99 he was tangled up, nowhere near out, but inducing  Sri Lanka to waste a review). 

Each partnership has added at least 60, enabling Australia to move to a modest, if not yet comfortable, lead. The match looks to be heading for a draw, but the first session, and perhaps beyond, should be interesting. Hughes has made his point: what better time for Michael Clarke, on 8*/37b, to make his?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Australian bowlers unable to cut through Sri Lankan batting: T3D3.

Sri Lanka 6/428 (155ov, Mathews 85*, Dilshan 83, Sangakkara 79, M Jayawardene 51) lead Australia 316 by 112 runs with 4 first innings wickets in hand. T3D3 at Colombo (SSC).

It was Sri Lanka's day alright: the first for the series where they have not been fighting to save the match.

4/262 from 90 overs suggests measured more than flamboyant progress. This was certainly the case in the morning session where two wickets, those of the top class batters Kumar Sangakkara 79/176b (10x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 51/120b (9x4), fell while 84 runs were added.

Thereafter Captain Dilshan, much more at home at no5 and ,yet again, Angelo Mathews continued to move the innings forward, the former more positively (he was the only one of the top 6 with a strike rate above 50) though not as rapidly as might have been expected given the bland state of the wicket.

While the Australian bowling's bark was worse than its bite it never let things get completely out of hand. Every so often, just as a partnership looked set, one of the quick bowlers snapped back with a wicket, eg when Dilshan looked set for a century Trent Copeland had him caught behind for 83/131b (14x4). Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene continued in similar vein, then the wicketkeeper accelerated the tempo with two 6s off consecutive balls from Nathan Lyon, before Copeland snaffled him driving on the up for 47/86b (2x6, 3x4)., leaving Mathews to bat out the day for 85*/207b (8x4), and his team comfortably ahead.

Sri Lanka will need to push along if they are to bowl Australia out again cheaply (read 300+ if the pitch continues to play well). Unlike the first two matches the weather hasn't played a large part in the proceedings, so there should be enough time for a result.

It's very hard to see Australia fashioning a victory from here, and their underperforming (and moderately performing) batsmen will have to take a leaf or two out of the Mike Hussey- Shaun Marsh playbook to prevent Sri Lanka from winning. The home team must be kicking themselves over their poor performances (and their authorities' wicket preparation) in T1 & T2.

Scorecard .

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sri Lanka well placed for at least an honourable draw after two days

Sri Lanka 2/166  (65ov, Sangakkara 61*, Paranavitana 46,) trail Australia 316 (104.3 ov, Hussey 118, Marsh 81, Ponting 48, Eranga 4/65) on first innings by 150 runs: T3D2 at Colombo (SSC).

I've been away from live TV coverage for the last couple of days so have had to rely on Cricinfo (whose comments and analysis are good yet lack the immediacy of real time TV coverage) and,TV highlights. Better than nothing (try getting Test coverage in the US media) but still below par.

Making allowances for these shortcomings I conclude that Sri Lanka have been competitive and that, while they haven't yet got all the required runs on the board, their two best bats - Kumar Sangakkara 61*/125b (9x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 31*/83b (5x4) - are still at the wicket. Which means they must have a pretty good chance of passing Australia's OK but could have been better 318.

For Australia,once again Mike Hussey came to the rescue with a quintessentially pugnacious Mr Cricketish (a tautology, eh?)  118/178b (2x6, 12x4). Shaun Marsh also justified the selectors' faith in him (a no-brainer after his debut) with 81/207b (7x4). But add their scores  together, toss in Ricky Ponting's 48 and Brad Haddin's 35, and you can see, even without looking at the scorecard, that there were several below par performances. 
 I'm now repairing to the couch to watch day 3, so will leave you to check out the Scorecard and form your own opinions.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Predictable weather, predictable result

Sri Lanka 174 & 6/317 (114.3 ov, Sangakkara 69, Paranavitana 55, M Jayawardene 51) drew with Australia 7/411 dec: T2D5 at Palekelle. Australia lead series 1-0 with one match to play.

Today, when rain permitted play, Sri Lanka added 4/95 from the 35.3 overs bowled by Australia. All the Sri Lanka top order made handy scores though the two of whom big things were expected didn't build on the platform they'd established yesterday. Kumar Sangakkara  made 69/165b (8x4), while Mahela Jayawardene notched 51/133b (5x4).

Ryan Harris again was the best of the bowlers: 22-8-54-3 are figures of a fit, as well as a very good, bowler, yet it is widely believed by those close to the team that his body cannot keep on going like this. His value to the team this series has been immense: Mitchell Johnson has bowled some sharp spells but prefers not to take the new ball, Trent Copeland has bowled a steady line and length but lacks the spearhead's sharp pace, while Nathan Lyon struggled on the relatively (compared to Galle) benign Pallekele wicket.

The final Test begins in four days.The major selection issue for Australia, assuming Harris is fit (if not Peter Siddle may come into contention), is who to omit  to make room for the returning (from parental leave) Ricky Ponting. After his century on debut Shaun Marsh cannot be omitted, which leaves a choice between Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja. Neither have scored many runs, and while they aren't bad in the field, they don't seem quite as athletic as most other young Australian cricketers. 

I'll leave that one to the selectors, who, now following Greg Chappell's departure, comprise the captain and the coach: something which would, not so many years  months ago, have raised more than a few eyebrows..  


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sri Lanka bats at last pull together and set up weather assisted draw: T2D4

Sri Lanka 174 & 2/223 (79ov, Sangakkara 69* , Paranavitana 55) trail Australia 7/441 dec by 14 runs with 8 second inns wickets in hand: T2D4 at Pallekele.

Michael Clarke declared at Australia's overnight score. Given the amount of time lost to weather and a none too promising forecast he had no choice (despite what some of the studio based Fox Sports commentators said).

For the first time in the series Sri Lanka didn't collapse. Captain Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana added 81 for the first wicket against a probing, if not as sharply menacing as we've seen previously in the series, Australian attack. Each of the four batsmen who came to the crease made at least a handy contribution, though, as the situation demanded, none of them scored at limited overs rates or took many limited overs type liberties with the bowling. Paranavitana's held on after Dilshan went at 81 for a measured 55/143b (6x4) until Mike Hussey (yes, that man again) had him caught behind. Then the two best batters in the side Kumar Sangakkara 69*/158 (8x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 38*/99 (3x4) stayed together, adding 95 until the umpires (or their finely calibrated light meters) adjudged that play should effectively end for the day.

2.82 runs an over from 79 overs on a wicket which, apart from a little turn, held few terrors for good batters both reflected both the defensive mindset of the Sri Lankans and the steadiness of the Australian bowling. Ryan Harris again made the initial breakthrough, and there were some close calls: eg Nathan Lyon sometimes pitched short yet at other times induced edges which fell just short of the close catchers (is Phil Hughes the best short leg in the team?).

So it seems probable that tomorrow the match will fizzle out into a draw. Even if Australia were to take early wickets it's hard to see there being enough time, given the weather and the umpires' zero tolerance attitude to low light, for a result to be achieved.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Australia build massive lead as Hussey & Marsh make hay before rain comes : T2D3

Australia 7/411 (132ov, Hussey 142, Marsh 141) lead Sri Lanka 174 by 237runs with 3 first inns wickets in hand. T2D3 at Pallekele.

Mike Hussey and Shaun Marsh eventually added 258 before Hussey fell for 142/244b (18x4). Marsh followed soon after for 142/315b (16x4), as did Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson to successive deliveries from Suraj Randiv (Ryan Harris narrowly avoided the hat trick).

Both Hussey, the old gun who'd been written off by many a year ago, and Marsh, the Test debutant, batted magnificently on a pitch which is holding up well against an attack which which lacked penetration (or was made to lack penetration).

But then the rains came. I don't know the forecast for Kandy (near the Pallekele stadium) but wouldn't be surprised if more rain was expected tomorrow and Monday, in which case Australia should declare now and hope that their bowlers can once again take advantage of what this series so far has shown to be a more brittle than expected Sri Lanka batting lineup.


Sri Lanka win first session, Aust the second, weather the third: T2D2

Australia 3/264 (91.3 ov, Marsh 87*, Hussey 76*) lead Sri Lanka 174 by 90 runs with 7 innings wkts in hand: T2D2 at Pallekele.
When bad light stopped play just after tea Shaun Marsh and, once again, Mike Hussey had taken Australia from a sub-optimal 3/116 to a much healthier 3/264 in about one and a half sessions

Marsh on debut batted in doughty mode at first (his 50 took 133 balls, inc 7x4) before becoming more fluent later. His 87*/211b (11x4) and of course Hussey's continued late(?) career bloom 76*/152b (8x4) have put Australia back on the road to a substantial first innings lead. The main contest may now between them and the weather.

Sri Lanka, especially the economical Suraj Randiv, plugged away in the field. After lunch the occasional ball caused problems but when Kumar Sangakkara came on to bowl it seemed, if not unconditional surrender, then the opening of peace negotiations. Yet like MS Dhoni, the other subcontinental wicketkeeper turned bowler (in a recent Test v England), Kumar didn't bowl too badly: he swung the ball at about 100kph. Good parkland, but a bit short of Test standard.

; Scorecard

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sri Lanka bat first and feebly against unrelenting Australia

Australia 0/60 (17.4 ov) trail Sri Lanka 174 (64.1 ov, A Mathews 58) by 114 runs with all 1st innings wickets in hand. T2D1 at Pallekele.

I didn't expect that, having won the toss and choosing to bat, Sri Lanka would reprise their Galle meltdown, but they did come close.

After Ryan Harris and Trent Copeland took the wind out of Sri Lanka's sails things did improve (could they have got much worse than 3/14?) for a while, as the pitch ( which was never as dodgy as the Galle one) became progressively easier to bat on. But Australian bowling which was always persistent, and often brilliant, coupled with some sloppy batting kept the home team in check.

Only Kumar Sangakkara, in gritty Test match mode, 48/121b (7x4) and Angelo Mathews, choosing the right balls to biff, 58/111b (3x6, 6x4), passed 20. Sangakkara was dropped early but thereafter fought hard until he succumbed to, of all people, Mike Hussey's gentle slow medium. (Hussey also took a brilliant catch in the gully to send Mahela Jayawardene packing cheaply)

Prasanna Jayawardene was the third highest scorer, but his brief innings exemplified the inept indiscipline of the SL batting: just before lunch he took 12 off Nathan Lyon's first five balls, then hoicked the last one to square leg.

174 was hardly a facesaving total and, as Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes showed (a near run out and a couple of close lbw appeals apart), it is unlikely to prevent Australia from amassing a considerable first innings lead, especially as the Sri Lankan attack is without the injured/ill Ajanta Mendis and Rangana Herath.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Australia win (quite) comfortably though Jayawardene and Mathews fight hard

Australia 273 & 210 (59.2 ov, Clarke 60, Herath 5/79) def Sri Lanka 105 & 253 (95.5 ov, M Jayawardene 105, Mathews 95, Harris 5/62) by 125 runs with a day to spare: T1 at Galle. Australia lead 3 match series 1-0.

For a time today, when the Mahela Jayawardene-Angelo Mathews partnership blunted the persistent Australian attack, Sri Lanka looked to have an outside chance of an improbable win. They were chasing 378, a margin of safety improved by the 98 runs added for the last four wickets in the disappointing Australian second innings.

At lunch, after a rain shortened morning session, SL were 5/187, a great improvement on the previous day's 5/68, but still a long way from victory. While the wicket was no shirtfront it seemed to play better than over the previous two days when 25 wickets fell as 435 runs were scored. But much of today's revival was due to the resolution of the two Sri Lankans: the Australians generally bowled tightly yet without that sharpness which had characterised their first and half the second innings efforts.

The new ball did for the partnership, and effectively the match. Ryan Harris bowled a weary Jayawardene off an inside edge for an elegantly determined 105/231b (1x6, 15x4, 2x3, 33x1). Mathews tried to focus the lower order and move to a personal century but, after two of his partners went cheaply, fell to Watson, who once again proved his value as a fifth bowler, for 95/191b (13b).

In the end Australia won comfortably. Mike Hussey's first innings 95 turned out to be, even if it didn't appear that way at the time, the foundation upon which their victory was built: he was deservedly named Player of the Match. Yes,Hussey did bat when the pitch, which wasn't really up to Test match standard, was at its best but he was a cut above all his teammates. Jayawardene's second innings was magnificent too, but his total contribution was offset by his clumsy run out in his first.

Despite an abysmal first innings, Sri Lanka have shown that they should be no pushover for this developing Australian team. If they get a chance to bat first on a good wicket and avoid self-destructive moments such as the Jayawardene run out who knows what they might be capable of?


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Memorable day for Aussie debutants as 16 wickets fall for 221

Australia 273 & 5/116 (33.5 ov, M Clarke 60) lead Sri Lanka 105 (50ov, N Lyon 5/34) by 283 runs with 6 second inns wickets in hand. T1/3 D2/5 at Galle.

Two batting meltdowns, a major one by Sri Lanka who lost 7/18 to post an abysmal 105 all out followed by Australia's 5/116, on a bowler friendly - but not that friendly - wicket. have put Australia in control of the First Test after only two days.

My reservations about the inexperienced Australian attack were soon shown to be groundless. Trent Copeland took a wicket with his second ball and Nathan Lyon with his first, as Sri Lanka self-destructed in the face of high class bowling and fielding. Lyon's 15-3-34-5 was a superb debut. while Copeland effectively took two of the first three wickets, one with the ball, the other a run out of Mahela Jayawardene who looked more assured than most of his team mates.

A Sri Lankan revival was blocked by three quick wickets from Shane Watson which opened the way for Lyon to run throught the tail, leaving Sri Lanka embarassed with a paltry 105. The other bowlers kept things tight: Ryan Harris's 8-5-6-0 speaks for itself, even if it doesn't say how unlucky he was not to take at least one wicket.

Much of Australia's second innings has, apart from Michael Clarke's positive 60/80b (1x6, 7x4) , been more akin to parklands than Test cricket. Shane Watson was out first ball from a Sehwag-style stroke while Ricky Ponting fell in comical fashion with both bat and ball airborne.
But with a lead of almost 300, and the wicket continuing to deteriorate (eg puffs of dust, balls keeping low) Australia should be able to win comfortably from here.