CRICKET / Onus on seniors to score heavily as bowling department wears a depleted look
: Sri Lanka is putting its faith in the remnants of its “golden generation” as it targets its first ever Test win in Australia in the three-match series starting on Friday.
Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera, who form the core of Sri Lanka’s batting, are shaping as Sri Lanka’s best chance of breaking its 10-Test, 25-year winless record.
Sangakkara, 35, the international cricketer of the year, would not be drawn on whether this would be his last trip to Australia, but said an elusive Test win was a prime motivator for the team elders.
“When you get older, you look for achievements where you haven’t really tasted victory so, here and in India, (there are) Test matches still to win,” Sangakkara said in Hobart.
“That’s a great motivator for guys like Dilshan, Mahela, myself and Samaraweera. We’re the older brigade. But whether we get it or not, the key is to really contribute to the side.”
Since being hammered in its first Test in Australia in early 1988, Sri Lanka has lost another seven matches and drawn two, most recently in Cairns in 2004. It has also never won a Test in India.
Sri Lanka’s hopes appear to rest on its batsmen providing enough runs to upset Michael Clarke’s Australia, the World No. 3 Test side, which is embarking on its first series since Ricky Ponting’s retirement.
Its bowling has been hit by the Test retirements of Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. Unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis, with 62 wickets from 16 Tests, was passed over for the tour.
Dilshan, 36, admits he is unlikely to have another chance to win a Test in Australia and acknowledges time is running out for him and his teammates.
“Definitely, for me I think this is my last tour (in Australia) in Test cricket. This is a real challenge for everyone,” he said.
“We’ve never won a Test here. If we can win it will be great for the team and country.
“It’s never easy when you’re playing in Australia because the conditions are different. But we’re looking forward to a great run with them in this series.”
Much of Sri Lanka’s hopes are pinned on the batting of veteran trio Jayawardene, Sangakkara and opener Dilshan, who urged the top order to make runs or risk being whitewashed in the series.
“Definitely in the top order someone has to put his hands up and put some big runs on the board, to help the middle-order and the tailenders,” the opener said.
“That’s our target. The top order should make some runs this series. It’s really important that Mahela and Sanga come into form. They’re two experienced guys in the side.”
However, Sri Lanka’s lead-in form does not augur well with just four victories in its last 20 Tests. Its last away series win was in Bangladesh in 2008, and its current Test ranking is a lowly sixth.
Australia is coming off a 309-run drubbing by World No. 1 South Africa this month, and Hobart will be the first chance for its new-look batting line-up after the record-breaking Ponting retired with 13,378 Test runs.
Phil Hughes returns to the Australian squad at the ground where he was dropped after its shock loss to New Zealand a year ago, with a likely role at No. 3 instead of opening the innings.
“This is the ground where things probably didn’t pan out perfectly on a personal note,” Hughes said this week. “Twelve months down the track, I feel like I’m in a better place now.”
Watson at No. 4
All-rounder Shane Watson has said he will be given the first opportunity to fill Ponting’s vacancy in the batting order at number four against Sri Lanka.
“(Coach) Mickey Arthur talked to me at the end of the last (Perth) Test to say the way it was looking, they were going to move me down to four,” Watson told reporters.
The series continues in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground followed by Sydney, starting on January 3. — AFP