Australia entered the series against Sri Lanka as the No1 Test team in the world. The hosts were miles behind them in the pecking order – at No7. The record of the visiting team in Sri Lanka was as imposing as it was mysterious.
In five tours since 1982, the Aussies had lost just one Test in Sri Lanka, winning six matches and prevailing in four series. Given the gap between the sides in the rankings and history, Steven Smith must have started the tour fairly confident.
Well, three days is all it took in the second Test at Galle to erase all memories of history. Unlike the first Test, where the course of the match was decisively altered by a sensational century from the unheralded Kusal Mendis, it was more or less one-way traffic in the second match.
A combined batting effort saw the Sri Lankans post a competitive 281 in the first innings and that was more than enough for the spinners to work with. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has accomplished a lot on pitches less receptive than the one in Galle and the Australians stood no chance against him there.
But the workhorse Herath was not the star of the show for the hosts. It was yet another unknown face – 34 year-old Dilruwan Perera – who decimated the Australian batting line-up with his honest off-spinners.
Ten wickets in the match shows how difficult the Aussies found him but while it is an incredible achievement by Perera and the Sri Lankans a whole, it is tough to overlook how terrible the Austraians have been. The two biggest disappointments for the Aussies have been their batsmen and spin spearhead Nathan Lyon.
A lot was expected from David Warner, Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja against a Sri Lankan bowling attack that was short on experience, baring Herath. But a half-century from Smith and a couple of 40s from Warner is all they could come up with. The very sight of spin and a dry surface now seems enough to send the Aussies ducking for cover.
Australia’s spin attack, if we can call it that, wasn’t even half as good. In a match that didn’t last three days and was dominated by spinners, Lyon – who has 200 scalps under his belt – went for more than four runs an over in both innings and took four wickets in his 37 overs.
Left-arm spinner Jon Holland was even worse, going for nearly seven an over in the second essay. It must be noted that this is hardly a daunting Sri Lankan batting line-up. There is no Mahela Jayawardene or Kumar Sangakkara and for the Australian spinners to fail so miserably on helpful tracks is a bigger worry than the struggles of the batsmen.
When the Aussies were blanked 4-0 in India in 2012-13, Lyon did his bit effectively, picking up 15 wickets in three Tests. But in the ongoing series, he has been a shadow of his former self and if Lyon had done even a decent job, the Australians wouldn’t have been humiliated in this manner.
The Aussies have now lost three consecutive series in Asia – against India, Pakistan and now Sri Lanka. It’s a record that doesn’t befit a No1 Test side. Captain Smith said that maybe it’s time for a major selection rethink but I don’t think it’s possible to pick a team for specific conditions in Test matches.
Good players are good on every surface. Surely you can make one or two changes but the core of the team remains the same in Tests, unlike limited overs cricket. A big chunk of Australia’s line-up has gained enough Test experience and for them to fail spectacularly against such a young team proves that their rise to the top of the rankings table is a statistical play and not a reflection of reality.
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