For the second time in as many tests, A 28-year-old just capped batsman, Shaun Marsh (81), and his illustrious West Australian partner who grabbed two man-of-the-match awards in as many tests, Michael Hussey, came together to pull Australia out of embarrassment.

Marsh and Hussey put for the fourth wicket to take the side to a respectable 190 for 5, from a rather precarious 120 for 4.

Marsh finally fell for a well made 81, defending the wrong line to off-spinner Ranganna Herath. The gentle spinner took the off-stump. He had taken guard in the second over of the day and stayed on till over 67. In all, he hung around for 276 minutes and faced 207 balls.

In the first innings of the last test at Pallekele, where Marsh made his debut, the pair joined hands when the Aussies were 116 for 3. From there on Marsh made 141 and Hussey, 144.

At close of play on the first day of the last test between Australia and Sri Lanka, the Aussies made 235 for 5. Hussey (63 not out), who has made a habit of pulling Australia out of the woods, and Brad Haddin (21 n.o.) were at the crease when play was called off nine overs ahead of scheduled close of play.

Sri Lanka makes inroads

Earlier, Sri Lankan fast bowlers exploited the moisture-laden conditions at the SSC grounds well to send back two Aussie batsmen inside the first hour of play on day one of the last test between the two countries. Debutant fast bowler Shaminda Eranga grabbed his first wicket off his first ball in tests, in a series which has seen four good debuts.

Play commenced about half-an-hour late following overnight showers. Sri Lankan Captain T.M. Dilshan opted to insert Australia into bat, after he won the toss. In any case, Aussie captain Michael Clarke said that he would prefer to bat if he won the toss.

Philip Hughes, who has not scored a 50 in his last 10 test innings, was the first to go. In the second over of the match, he jabbed at a Lakmal delivery outside off that held its line. The angled bat dragged the ball back on to the stumps. On a good day, those balls run to the deep fine-leg fence. But Hughes has been out of luck this series. The Australian score board read none for 1. The next to go was the merry Shane Watson in the ninth over. He launched on to a wide-off the off-stump delivery from S. Eranga, his first in test cricket. The ball raced towards backward point where Dilshan was waiting. Australia: 2 down for 22.

Marsh and Ponting made sure that there would be no more setbacks ahead of lunch, and put together 79 runs in all. But soon after lunch, Ponting (48) gave a regulation catch to the wicket keeper, chasing one outside the off-stump, off Lakmal. His captain, Clarke, came and went, literally following on Ponting’s footsteps. Clarke played the same stroke that got Ponting out, though to a different bowler, the debutant Eranga.

Changes in batting line up

Dilshan said that his team’s batting line up had been adjusted to factor in current form. He has dropped down the order. Tharanga Paranavitana and Lahiru Thirimanne will open the innings. While Kumar Sangakkara, who is playing his 100th test, and Mahela Jayawardene, retain their No. 3 and No. 4 spots, Dilshan will come in at No. 5. Samaraweera, who has had a bad series, has been dropped and Anjelo Mathews moves up the order after Dilshan. Sri Lanka’s best bowler in this series, Ranganna Herath is back from injury and S. Eranga along with S. Lakmal and C.Welegedara complete the bowling line up. S. Prasanna, who made his debut in the second test at Pallekele, and Suraj Randiv do not find place in the side.

Australia opted to retain Marsh at No. 3 after his 141 at Pallekele, and made Ponting, who has made over 9,000 runs in that position since 2001, move one slot lower, to No. 4. That meant that captain Clarke too drops down one slot, to No. 5. It will also mean that the best batsman in view this series, Michael Hussey, who has already been named man-of-the-match in the two tests earlier, drops down one slot too!

Medium pacer P. Siddle replaces Ryan Harris. Usman Khawaja, who did not have much of a look in, barring the first test at Galle, has been left out to make way for Shaun Marsh.

Sri Lanka last lost a match at the SSC in 2004 to Australia.

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