A Test match that lacked both the flair of the series against South Africa and the gravity of whatever has been happening over in India, this was nevertheless a gripping encounter that was won by the hosts with barely half an hour remaining on the final day. It was only let down by the fact that the tourists were never really in with a shout of winning it and no bastard in Hobart could seemingly be bothered turning up to watch it.
More than anything else, this Test proved a vindication of Michael Clarke’s captaincy, with the decision to declare before tea on Day two, and throw the bat after lunch on Day four, raising eyebrows at the time. It turns out that without these decisions, the undermanned Aussie attack (with Ben Hilfenhaus absent through injury, and Nathan Lyon deciding to attend a local gardening expo on the last day instead) would not have had enough time to bowl Sri Lanka out twice. So congratulations Michael Clarke. Even your decision to bowl Matthew Wade looks like a stroke of genius. Um. Possibly.
Once again it was all up to Slushie connoisseur extraordinaire Peter Siddle to do all the hard work. And we don’t mean the extra hours he may or may not have put into the ball between deliveries. With Shane Watson bowling well for one over in about five, and Mitchell Starc only deciding to turn up fashionably late on the fifth day, it was once again all down to Siddle to win the game. He doesn’t seem to mind doing it, but it’s something of a bad habit to be getting into, and maybe one of the other guys might want to start helping out soon.
With the bat it was a surprisingly competent display from the hosts, putting aside David Warner’s usual spectacle of needlessly throwing his wicket away, and the fact Ed Cowan should have failed twice if only the umpire had given a plumb LBW decision in the second innings. Or if Sri Lanka had bothered to review it. Michael Hussey scored yet another century, and looks set to retire with his average above 50, which must be nice, and Phil Hughes had a solid return to Test cricket, although not quite one befitting the local media (and Channel Nine of course) labelling him the new messiah.
It must be something of a worry for Sri Lanka to have gone so close to salvaging something from a game they always looked like losing, only to fall just short. The concern is that after this battling display they will subsequently fold over the next two Tests. Which would be a pity if for no other reason than that the next Test sees legends such as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene play in a Boxing Day Test at the MCG for the first time. And hopefully everyone remembers what happened the last time Sri Lanka played in a Boxing Day Test. Because otherwise we’ve had precious few reasons to laugh at South Africa lately.
Their persistence in this Test owed quite a bit to a 161 run partnership between Tillikaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews in the first innings. It was, in truth, hardly a chance free affair, as the pair played and missed regularly throughout. Yet they managed to make Australia sweat in a game that up till then looked like meandering towards an innings loss for the tourists. Otherwise contributions with the bat for the tourists were few and far between. Jayawardene failed twice while Sangkarra’s wicket in the second innings effectively sealed their fate.
The Sri Lankan bowlers fared a little better, comparatively, but still never really threatened to wrest momentum away from Australia. Chanaka Welegedara bowled mostly like crap and took a few wickets, whilst Shaminda Eranga actually bowled quite well yet barely picked up any. Rangana Herath took his usual bagful in the second innings, but by that stage the hosts were swinging at anything. The concern is whether Sri Lanka possess the ability to take 20 wickets in a Test, and on this showing, they won’t come close in the next two Tests in the series.
The next encounter is on Boxing Day at the MCG, and on this showing you can expect crowds there to be as miserable as they were for this Test. Aside from the first day of course: if nothing else, Victorians sure do love their traditions. Even if nobody can quite remember the point of them in the first place. It’s not that Sri Lanka aren’t competitive, it’s just that nobody gives them a chance of actually winning, and that robs the contest of quite a bit of its allure. The Sri Lankan squad will probably remain unchanged for the second Test. We have no idea if that’s a good thing or not.
Into the hosts squad comes Jackson Bird (or Jackson Canary as some wag, who will no doubt never be invited onto one of our podcasts again, named him), who, if he plays, will be a like for like replacement for Hilfenhaus. Albeit a far better one. Usman Khawaja is also into the squad as a potential injury replacement for Michael Clarke, who has a dicky hamstring to go along with his dicky back and dicky fashion sense. That decision alone should cause millions of Victorians to weep into their Caffe Lattes at the utter, utter, injustice of Rob Quiney being over looked for a Test reprieve. The rest of the nation is celebrating the fact, of course.