Australia has the edge over Sri Lanka

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WILY CUSTOMER: Muttiah Muralitharan will be keen to work his way out of an indifferent form and play a winning role.
WILY CUSTOMER: Muttiah Muralitharan will be keen to work his way out of an indifferent form and play a winning role.

S. Dinakar

The winner will lead the points tally at the halfway stage

Perth: While comparisons with the days when Jeff Thomson’s lifting deliveries beat a leaping Rodney Marsh to hit the sightscreen on the full at the WACA may tell a different story, Perth is still a hard track.

The Australians, however, are not relying on pace alone ahead of the critical CB tri-series match against Sri Lanka here on Friday. Left-arm Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg is a part of the eleven.

It’s hot in Perth, a sunny city on the rugged West. Consequently, there is a belief that the heat could open up cracks on a dry pitch. Hogg could be in the scheme of things.

Muttiah Muralitharan would also be eying the surface with interest. Great players have a sense of occasion and an off-colour Muralitharan will be seeking to overcome indifferent form in a pivotal clash. Spinners relish bounce in the pitch.

Final home appearance

Adam Gilchrist will not be short of motivation either. Friday’s game will be his last international appearance at the WACA and the champion cricketer deserves a fitting farewell from his home crowd.

At the SCG, he played a valuable innings of varying shades against the Lankans. Here, if the ball comes on to the bat, Gilchrist could blaze away in the manner of old. He knows the surface like the back of his hand.

There is a lot at stake for both teams. The side that wins here will lead the points tally at the half-way stage. Australia has seven from three matches and Sri Lanka, six from three.

The Lankans found some form against India in Canberra but they will have to bury the ghosts of SCG where their batting was blown away under lights. Chasing at night at the WACA will not be easy either. The ball has tended to dart around in the past during the second half of the match.

If there is any juice in the surface, Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson can exploit it. And men like Hogg and James Hopes, the pace bowling all-rounder who comes in for Stuart Clark, will bowl at a different pace in the middle of the innings.

While its bowling has a well-rounded appearance about it, Australia would have to put runs on the board to make the effort of a Lee-led attack count.

Under the circumstances, Australia could be wary of a bouncy pitch. Twice this season, in the Test here at the WACA and the one-dayer at MCG, the Aussies were caught out by Ishant Sharma & Co. When the ball jagged around, the Aussies nicked rather than hit it.

The Punter has been in the line of fire. Yet, an authoritative innings from Ricky Ponting could change all that. He could accomplish this at a venue where Ishant gave him a torrid time in the Test series.

Ponting has tended to stay rooted to the crease and jab at deliveries rather than play back and across and get into an ideal position.

He has been opened up by deliveries straightening or leaving him.

Given the volume of cricket being played these days, even accomplished players can slip into bad habits. The challenge before Ponting would be to ease into a natural flow that makes him such a compelling batsman. Right now, he is tentative.

Duels within

There will be duels within the contest and the Freemantle Doctor will be a factor. The famous breeze could encourage swing bowlers, Lee, Johnson, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga.

Matthew Hayden vs Vaas will be a face-off between two indomitable spirits. If he finds rhythm and swing, Malinga could be a handful.

The Lankans got their batting order right by pushing the right-handed Tillkaratne Dilshan to the opening slot.

The free-stroking Dilshan will have time and space to construct an innings at the top of the order.

Jayasuriya could blaze away at the beginning and Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene could sustain the momentum.

The Lankans have the batsmen who can put their foot on the accelerator in the end overs. The Australians, though, have the edge. They were beaten at the MCG and are likely to come back hard.

The teams:

Australia: R. Ponting (captain), M. Hayden, A. Gilchrist, M. Clarke, A, Symonds, M. Hussey, J. Hopes, B. Hogg, B. Lee, M. Johnson and N. Bracken.

Sri Lanka (from): M. Jayawardene (captain), T. Dilshan, S. Jayasuriya, K. Sangakkara, C. Silva, C. Kapugedera, F. Maharoof, C. Vaas, L. Malinga, M. Muralitharan, I. Amerasinghe, N. Kulasekara.

Umpires: Daryl Harper and Rudi Koertzen; Third umpire: Peter Parker; Match Referee: Jeff Crowe.

Match starts at 10 a.m. IST.

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