Sri Lanka are difficult to beat in Test matches at home and yet, the bookmakers have tipped Australia to win the first Test match at Galle. The reason could well be a combination of the retirement of Muthiah Muralitharan and Australia’s previous record in the island nation.
Australia have lost only one Test in Sri Lanka to the home side and that was way back in 1999. That aside, Australia have managed to win five games and drawn the rest of them, making it a surprising record in their favour.
However, the statistics must be taken with a pinch of salt. For one, Australia had last played in Sri Lanka in 2003-04 in a Test series, with a spin attack consisting of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, two of the best Australian slow bowlers in a long time. On the contrary, the two spin bowlers that Australia have on this tour of Sri Lanka are Michael Beer and Nathan Lyon – virtually unknown faces with international experience amounting to almost nothing.
On Lankan pitches, it does become difficult to bowl the opposition out without the quality spin bowlers. That said, it is equally a challenge to face up to the really good slow bowlers and while Muralitharan may have hung up his boots, the likes of Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv could be a handful. For good measure, the Lankan selectors have also given leg-spinning greenhorn Prasanna Seekkuge a go in the squad.
Sri Lanka will need to decide on whether the pitch would have enough in it to necessitate the playing of three spin bowlers. In this case, they could be going into the game with just one specialist pace bowler and with Angelo Mathews to take the new ball with him.
Australia, on the other hand, will not be torn too much between getting in the customary one slow bowler or going in with an extra spinning option – the lack of experience in their ranks will allow them to decide on a three pace-one spin combination.
The batting is relatively stable for both teams, what with Australia needing to find a way to choose between Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh for the number six spot while Sri Lanka needing to decide on their opener to pair with T Dilshan.
The first Sri Lanka v Australia Test begins at Galle on August 31 at 1000 hours local time.