Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart December 13, 2012

A defining tour in a one-sided rivalry

On the surface, Sri Lanka's chances are not promising, but they have drawn steel from their rivalry with Australia in recent years

Though Sri Lanka may not rank as highly on Australia's list of favourite foes, for most Sri Lankan fans, a victory against Australia is sweeter than any other. Australia were the arch-villains in Sri Lanka's adolescence in international cricket, and those memories remain vivid, and attitudes entrenched, almost 20 years later.

The only time Sri Lanka played a Boxing Day Test, the man who would become their greatest cricketer was called for throwing by an Australian umpire. Several months later, Australia declined to play a World Cup match in Sri Lanka, and were their opponent in the final - an occasion which unequivocally remains Sri Lanka's most treasured cricket memory.

Even beyond Sri Lanka's coming of age, the taunts Murali endured in Australia fueled the rivalry, particularly when then prime minister of Australia, John Howard, waded into the debate. A decade of tactics aimed at mental disintegration also failed to endear the Australian side to Sri Lankan fans, whose own team often espoused a simpler, friendlier ethos, which seemed the diametric opposite of Steve Waugh's abrasive, but outstanding approach.

Times have changed. Ricky Ponting was the final remnant of that Australian era, but will not take guard in this series, and he had softened with the tide in any case. Murali is now a coveted commodity in Australia's Big Bash League, while Lasith Malinga - the more modern evangelist for Sri Lankan heresy - reaps scalps with abandon in the same competition. Yet, a victory against Australia, particularly in their own country, will not rank far below their World Cup triumph and will be celebrated for years to come.

On the surface however, the visitors' chances are not promising. Australia may be stitching up the cuts endured in an epic tilt at the top ranking, but a seemingly unsettled top four hides a middle order deep in form at its most fetching, while the attack has begun to reclaim the ferocity - if not quite the magic - of its predecessors. Ponting will take some replacing, but a relatively fresh batting order will find Shaminda Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara and Nuwan Kulasekara a far less daunting assignment than the venom-tipped steel of South Africa's fast men.

A pace attack bereft of a single bowler with 50 Test wickets to his name, or even 20 appearances at the top level, may serve as the perfect opportunity for Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes to break in their new roles, and for each of the top four to tune up ahead of tours in India and England. Rangana Herath has emerged as Sri Lanka's primary match-winner in the last 18 months, but Australian pitches will likely limit his threat, and as Kumar Sangakkara hinted ahead of the first Test, only a surface approaching a greentop in Hobart will dress the Sri Lankan attack with enough penetration to effect a win there.

For Sri Lanka's batsmen, the tour shapes as a hugely defining one, particularly on a personal level. This will be the last dance in Australia for the two latest inductees into Sri Lanka's batting pantheon, and Sangakkara in particular has a chance to confirm himself as a modern great if he succeeds over the next month. Rumours have been floating of Tillakaratne Dilshan's Test retirement too, while Thilan Samaraweera will also want to further erode a former-reputation as a home-track hero, before what looms as a largely empty 2013 for him, with Sri Lanka's Test postponements and cancellations having left Test specialists with little to look forward to.

"A lot of the guys will be very hungry to do well," Mahela Jayawardene said. "It's a big occasion for some of our guys, including myself. I haven't played Tests in Melbourne or Sydney, for example, and it's a great atmosphere. Those are incentives for the guys to lift their game and do well. Especially when you're playing against a top side like Australia, you want to lift your game. It's about pride. We aren't just there to make up the numbers, we're going to play a good game. Individually the guys will have to come up with a game plan on how they're going to adjust. The bowlers will have to work out how to attack a really good batting line-up as well."

Sri Lanka have drawn steel from their rivalry with Australia in recent years, and have competed well in ODI series, even winning a three-match bilateral down under in 2010. They may not have the personnel in hand to shape up as a serious challenge to Australia, but if they can find that extra tenacity in their reserves like they have in the limited-overs series, perhaps they can lift their game as Jayawardene hopes. It is the only way they can break a 24-year old duck on Australian soil.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on December 14, 2012, 1:14 GMT

    @Shafi79 on (December 13 2012, 11:08 AM GMT) - you may of been completely correct if you referred to SL circa 1970s & 80s! Reminded of the Ian Chappell story about playing SLside in a tour match. IC told his bowlers to go easy (believe it or not), in no time at all SL were about 0/80 (I think), when he told the bowlers that "that's enuff, give it to em), so I think Roy Dias or Duleep Mendis got tonked on the head. While they were lying there, the first words to come out of the fallen batsmen was "I go home now"! @ Chris_P on (December 13 2012, 14:09 PM GMT) - two of my favourite innings by a opposition playerin this country was Aravinda's swashbuckling ton, Kumar's near double. Great knocks, yet Oz still (in Tests) always seems to come away with the prize!

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    Australia was also the place where Ian Meckiff's career ended for being no-balled for throwing - and he was Australian.

  • Luke on December 13, 2012, 23:23 GMT

    @johnathonjosephs, to be fair on Malinga, he had to opt out because his action wasn't sustainable for Tests. It was the only way he could prolong his career. Good call as far as I'm concerned.

  • nandaka on December 13, 2012, 23:00 GMT

    @Chris_P; Sledging and trying to throw the players off the balance can be accepted as tactics Aussies used. But when those sledgings and tauntings go beyond the cricket ground with the intention of destroying someone's cricketing career..well,what do you call that up there in England? PLS Stop playing that good christian role.Nobody buys it anymore..Arjuna stood up for his team 'n his country.You call it be it. Btw Its funny to hear that bullies claims that they got bullied. Anti-Murali campaign went so far that even Mr.John Horvad had to say something about it. I think Aussies owe SL a big apology.On the other hand, what can we expect from a nation which branded the greatest spinner ever to walk on the face of the earth as a chucker ? May be you invented the game. But we(sub-continent) took the game to the next level. We raised the bar.Generally we taught you how to play the game. Tnx god..your umpire couldn't tell Sanath Jayasuriya not to hit the ball so hard.Peace out!

  • Kumara on December 13, 2012, 22:34 GMT

    Australia v SL in test cricket? Well you can't call it a rivalry. We have been pathetic, even losing 4/5 home matches when we had 1st innings lead. That's what happen when you play only three day cricket as a 1st class tournament.

    This rivalry is all about limited over cricket ;)

  • Charles on December 13, 2012, 22:31 GMT

    Well I agree with you Jonathan Joseph. Test cricket is dying. Maybe Test cricket can be revived by making it result oriented and also ensure gate receipts most of the time. Perhaps play 100 overs each innings spread over 5 days at 80n overs each day with play starting in the evenings. If an inning is completed within the 100 overs allotted then you continue the next inning until you bat the 100 overs. Also if the innings are not completed you carry it forward to the 2nd 100 over innings thereby benefiting the remaining not out batsmen getting a chance to play. This will ensure a result and also teams can plan towards the 2nd innings end in an ODI situation. This will eliminate ODI's and have just two forms of game. You could reduce it ti 350 overs to end at a decent time in the night. 70 overs a day would mean under 5 hours playing time each day with 100 for the first and 75 for the second innings. Interesting to know if anyone else has an idea to keep Test cricket alive.

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    Winning a test match in Sri Lanka will definitly be considered a high point in Sri Lankan cricket but it's very unlikely this will happen anytime soon. While Sri Lanka remain competitive in the limited overs format because of their strong batting unit, the test arena calls for bowlers who can bowl the oppositon out twice and the Asutralian batseman won't have too much to fear from Sri Lanka's bowlers. An upset can occur like it did in South Africa but is highly unlikely. Australia will look to take the series in a whitewash they had their nose bloodied by SA and will look to dominate in the hops of returning to their best and will look to regain their stranglehold on cricket that they lost after the retiring of WARne, McGrath, Hayden, Gilchrist and co.

  • shane on December 13, 2012, 17:07 GMT

    Radneck.... When u put public comments, need to be accurate. Where u frm! land of rednecks? U r name says it all!

  • Peter on December 13, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    I am with Meety re: the "whose own team often espoused a simpler, friendlier ethos..." . Calling for a runner whilst obviously unfit does NOT convey a sporting contest plus numerous other Arjuna'isms he helped instil, not the least getting batsmen to stand between the ball coming in & the keeper to improve the possibility of overthrows by distraction. That, as they say in England, simply, "isn't cricket." No doubt the Aussies played aggressively, but taunting the raging bull didn't stand you as innocent either. That aside, the games, although having gone Australia's way mostly were always hard fought with the Aussies never underestimating their opponents & affording them the respect they deserved.

  • Prashan on December 13, 2012, 13:37 GMT

    @redneck, last year rain saved us only in the 2nd test. 3rd test in Colombo did not have any rain and it was a definite draw. We played badly last year in our soil against the Aussies.

  • No featured comments at the moment.