AUSTRALIA V/S SRI LANKA, 1ST TEST, HOBART

Sri Lanka’s Tour of Australia, 2012

Warne-Muralitharan 3-Test Series

The buzz before Lanka’s arrival at Hobart was that they weren’t exactly prepared to take on a hurting Australian side in their own den. After the first Australia-Sri Lanka test, even though the scoreline reads 1-0, the Sri Lankan side proved those notions incorrect- and displayed gumption enough to build a probing game into one of their most successful tours down under.

The statistics at Hobart may not tell the full story, for Sri Lanka carried on Australia’s tough beginning to their Home Season in typical fighting style. The Test match bore all signs of a gritty, battling Australian team in transition and a Sri Lankan team on the verge of yet another transition during an underwhelming year of Test Cricket for them. This test series was to be their two greatest servants’ captain Jayawardene and (captain) Sangakkara’s final shot at glory in Australia. Glory could mean a drawn series, or a hard-fought 1-0 loss too, for Sri Lanka have never won a single test in Australia OR India.

This was their best chance, with a Clarke-led Australia, weakened by a sapping high-quality test series with the no. 1 side in the world, South Africa. That this current test side stretched a very strong South African side to their limit making them earn their solitary win only proves how dominant and unbeatable their alma mater led by Waugh and later Ponting were at their peak.

Vultures on a storm

What made this first test at Hobart so fascinating was Australia’s struggle to achieve balance despite a relatively successful test season. There was only going to be one team winning the test after Australia’s gutsy declaration and second innings blitz in order to force (any) result, but there was always the possibility of their worst enemy in recent time rearing its ugly head- a DRAW. Now, these last-hour draws make for absorbing test cricket, and reminds viewers why the longer format is still the purest form of skill and endurance- but Australia have twice been at the receiving end of draws that they should have won in the last fortnight. Instead, they’ve had to wait agonizingly for 4 tests to win their first Home test of the season- still smarting from the Adelaide draw with South Africa, where Siddle and Co. just couldn’t seem to complete the foregone conclusion on the last day.

To Clarke’s utmost horror, despite showing aggression unmatched by any modern-day contemporary captains (a one-slip field looking like a rat trap), the 5th day was quickly turning into painful déjà vu, with old warhorses Sangakkara and Samaraweera playing the roles of Du Plessis and De Villiers with admirable courage. Once again, Siddle was running in tirelessly with Starc and Lyon bowling on either side trying hard to break Lanka’s back.

Blood, sweat and subcontinental tears

To Clarke’s relief, this time, Siddle was not to be denied. Simply because he was accompanied by X-factor Starc, who was missing from that Adelaide Test. Siddle broke the middle order with the wickets of Sangakkara and Samaraweera before Starc tore into the lower order with a hostile 5-over spell that ended all hopes of another fighting draw.

A draw would have been Lanka’s greatest test achievement of 2012, considering the fact that they have never really been known as an overseas team or a team that saves tests by the skin of their teeth. But, in taking the Hobart Test to the last hour of the match, they displayed the kind of spirit that has been lacking from India’s far more experienced and accomplished lineup- with the senior players leading from the front. This may have laid the foundation for a greater fight in the next Boxing day Test (where Clarke will not play), or, it could have broken their resolve enough to be steamrolled into 2013. Time will tell, but Hobart made for good, absorbing test cricket- the kind not seen in the subcontinent while England were thrashing India in yet another test series.

A Final Farewell At Home

Australia is far from the finished product- a distant cry from the team that refused to lose a Home series for close to a decade. But, in Clarke (much like Cook), they have an able fearless leader looking for a brighter future for his side, with Hussey taking on the role of old statesman with style and consistency. Watson is yet to find his stability or his spot in the batting order, Warner is yet to gain that intimidation factor and Hughes is making his third comeback to fill in some very big shoes at no. 3.

What is striking is their bench strength in bowling- despite still not having one world class spinner in their country. Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Johnson had taken over from McGrath, Gillespie and the rest as stopgap bowlers, but they have turned out to be the future of a very competitive Australian side that are not as stacked with talent, but high on attitude. A probing Lyon, accompanied by young Starc (who is showing signs of being the next big thing), with Cummins yet to establish himself- and this Australian Test team seems to have achieved a transition process far smoother than the next country they will be touring…India.

It could define their near-future, taking on a vulnerable, weak Indian team overseas- and, just like India found themselves in a ‘favorable’ position to beat Australia in Australia last year- this could be young Australia’s best chance of asserting themselves in the subcontinent.

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