And so at last we come to it. The great Test series of our time. When two titans clash to determine who will be rightfully recognised as the best Test playing nation in the…no, wait. That was the last series. This is Australia vs. Sri Lanka. Which is more The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings really. Still, at least this series isn’t without some interest, although, again like The Hobbit, it’ll only really be interesting to the sort of die-hard fanboys who line up for weeks to by first day tickets and dress up like their hero, Ed Cowan. For anyone else it’s all just a bit dull really.
Welcome back Phil Hughes, it’s like you never went away. The retirement of Ricky Ponting, who coincidentally will be paraded before his adoring home fans like a prized bull that has just won best in show at the Launceston Fair, has conveniently opened a door for Hughes’ return. It remains to be seen whether Hughes can successfully close the door behind him this time. At least he won’t have Messrs Guptill and Martin here to haunt him again.
All the talk in the lead up has been around what sort of pitch will be unveiled on the first morning, with the Bellerive track this summer typically being greener than Bob Brown (that’s a Tasmanian in-joke, sorry). Local curators (and Nathan Lyon, who has been helping out as part of his on-going apprenticeship) have gone to pains to assure all and sundry that it won’t be quite that bad for this game, and that if both sides bat well there is every chance the Test could make it into the third day.
There was the usual talk before the game that Nathan Lyon would be dropped, reasonably enough after his rubbish return in the last Test at the WACA, but in the end he made the cut alongside Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Starc. There was quite a bit of conjecture over whether Hilfenhaus would return, or if the selectors would throw caution to the wind and pick both Mitchells to spearhead the attack. In the end they decided upon the conservative approach and told Johnson to carry the drinks and bring out a new pair of gloves for Clarke every couple of overs. We have no idea how he gets through so many pairs in an innings. He must be like the anti-Alastair Cook or something.
As for the batting, it looks like Shane Watson will come in at four, with Hughes at three. It’s not ideal. In fact it’s a bloody shambles. But since Michael Clarke will not budge from his number five position, it will have to do.
The talk in the Sri Lankan camp in the lead up to this series has been downbeat, at best. Losing a Test at home to New Zealand tends to do that to you. A good hit out in Canberra in the only lead up game of the tour should have helped things, but the suspicion remains that the tourists are viewing this series with an air of trepidation.
Admittedly this Sri Lankan team is in a tough position at the moment, with a lot of the older players, such as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, nearing the end of their illustrious careers, with few signs that anyone looks ready to take over their mantle. Also the conditions will hardly suit the Sri Lankans’ only bowling plan, of throwing the ball to Rangana Herath and hoping he takes ten wickets. But the hosts really are ripe for the picking at the moment, and an upset win in Tasmania, as New Zealand managed last year, would put Sri Lanka in the box office to take out the series.
Aside from relying on the older heads to score the bulk of the runs, a lot will also depend on the Sri Lankan quicks to make the most of the conditions and rip through the paper thin Aussie top order. Bowlers such as Nuwan Kulasekara, Shaminda Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara and Nuwan Pradeep will have to shoulder the burden, instead of just relying on Herath and Suraj Randiv doing all the hard work as usual. That’s if they all play of course. Admittedly the make up of the tourists’ squad is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Although we bet the Channel Nine commentators are putting in the hard yards learning about each and every one in case they get picked, and won’t make any jokes about their foreign sounding names whatsoever.
Clearly Australia are the favourites heading into this Test. They have the bowlers to exploit the conditions and a number of batsmen who know how to score runs in Tasmania. This is Ed Cowan’s home ground after all, and David Warner scored a century last time he played a Test here.
But that doesn’t mean an upset isn’t possible. In fact it’s far more likely on a surface like Bellerive’s than probably any other in the country (yes, Tasmania is a part of Australia, although you’d be surprised by the number of people who think it isn’t). Both Jayawardene and Sangakarra have scored centuries here before, and a Sri Lankan win would tear the series wide open, particularly since the last Test is at the SCG, which should suit Herath down to the ground.
Ultimately though we think Australia will come out on top here, although not without a few hilarious hiccups along the way.