Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 5th day December 18, 2012

Sri Lanka's skill demands they do better

While some of the fighting individual performances in Hobart were consolations for Sri Lanka, many in the team did not reach their full potential; they must strive for more in the two remaining Tests

As Sri Lanka's Nos. 10 and 11 trudged off the Bellerive square just after 6pm, their expressions conveyed no pleasure at having held off the juggernaut until the final hour, only disappointment. There will be temptation to cast Sri Lanka's loss as a moral victory - the runt that had more scrap than expected, but that was always going to be too weak to roll with the big dog - but Sri Lanka owe themselves a more honest evaluation than that. They were outplayed consistently across all disciplines in this Test, and their talent demands better than their showing in Hobart.

From a purely statistical perspective Sri Lanka may have edged out sessions on day four and five but, in truth, their only really dominant period in the match was the morning of day three, in which Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews made rapid runs and suffered no setbacks. There was much to admire about Sri Lanka's grit on the final day, and the welts they will wear as they recover from the match will remind them that they were at least in a fight on a fiendish, fissured pitch. Mahela Jayawardene even described each chunk of clay amid the cracks as "plates" - and it was not hard to imagine the surface as a tectonic map. But Sri Lanka should never have fallen so far as to be clawing at their opponents so desperately on the fifth day.

Before the Test Jayawardene had called on his experienced batsmen to rally, and though they were given a golden chance to conceal a blemished bowling performance through an adventurous declaration from Michael Clarke, they spurned that opportunity by clattering to 87 for 4. Dimuth Karunaratne, playing his second Test, and having received a fine ball from Ben Hilfenhaus, might be forgiven. But the other three who fell on the second evening cannot allow themselves so generous an assessment.

Kumar Sangakkara is contending for greatness, not only in Sri Lanka's pantheon - where he is deservedly hailed by some as the country's best-ever batsman - but on a global scale as well. Notoriously hard-working, the many hours he would have spent in preparation for this Test were not done justice in his second innings fifty when hopes of victory seemed remote. Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera also showed some ticker in the fourth innings, but Sri Lanka had the best of the batting conditions on days two and three, and yet did not convert that advantage into a more competitive total.

Sri Lanka have escaped the least likely venue of the tour to have suited their strengths with a bruised but unbroken spirit. They cannot, however, allow such small successes to overshadow the opportunities missed.

"We were a little loose with the bat in the first innings and we need to tighten things up a bit more," Jayawardene said after the match. "In the first innings we need to consolidate a bit better. When you put runs on the board in the first innings of the Test, that's where you take control of a match."

Sri Lanka's fielding was also lacklustre during the Test. For years they have prided themselves on being the best fielding side in the subcontinent, but the dropped catches and misfields served mostly to further deflate a faltering bowling effort in the first innings. If they are to take 20 wickets in either of the remaining Tests, Sri Lanka's energy in the field must make up for what they lack with the ball.

There are signs the bowlers can learn to be effective however and perhaps, even more than Dilshan's hundred, that is the most reassuring thought with which they leave Hobart. Rangana Herath's five-wicket haul will give Sri Lanka hope that they can at least hope for penetration in the second innings and on a better pitch for spin, maybe even in the first. Chanaka Welegedara's improved performance in the second innings also suggests that his long road back from injury is coming to an end, and he may once again be ready to don the pace spearhead's mantle that he carried creditably in 2011.

"There were glimpses of Chanaka's form coming back," Jayawardene said. "After eight months away, he showed a lot of improvement.

"We can take positives out of the way Dilshan batted. It was a very controlled innings the way he dominated the attack. Angelo batted really well in a tough situation as well when we were four down. Even in the second innings, even though we knew the pitch was going to be tough, everyone buckled down and batted really well. We were getting a few blows on the body, but everyone stuck to their task. Very proud of the way the boys fought."

These are consolations; perhaps, considering the supposed chasm in quality between the teams, Sri Lanka deserve to linger on happy notes as well. They may be facing a series deficit, but at least Sri Lanka have escaped the least likely venue of the tour to have suited their strengths with a bruised but unbroken spirit.

They cannot, however, allow such small successes to overshadow the opportunities missed. There are plenty in the visiting side who know they did not realise their potential in Hobart, and they will hope to turn disappointment into desperation in the matches to come.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashan on December 21, 2012, 15:43 GMT

    @Meety, comments for this section will shortly close. My prediction for tests is 2-0 Australia, but for ODIs may well be 4-1 or 3-2 Sri Lanka looking at our recent record and also the fact that our bowlers excel as run stoppers.

  • Prashan on December 21, 2012, 14:46 GMT

    @Meety, thanks a lot. By the way, last 2 instances when Australia lost at the MCG, which was in Dec 2008 and 2010 to South Africa and England respectively, Australia went on to lose the test series. SL does not have the pace bowling attack to make an impact at the SCG. I better lower my hopes for MCG. But should we lose at the MCG, we will be rather deflated by the time we play at the SCG, when conditions will favor us.

  • Andrew on December 21, 2012, 0:58 GMT

    @Sinhaya on (December 20 2012, 07:21 AM GMT) - bearing in mind, that sometimes the MCG is tough to bat on first day. I think the 2nd innings is often the better one for batting. So if you bat first & get 400, you'll have done well.

  • Prashan on December 20, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    @Meety yes I agree we could be a little deflated but the level of deflatedness will be less than it was after the Cardiff and Pretoria debacles. MCG will definitely produce a result as all Boxing Day tests from year 1999 have produced results. Since 1999 till today England won 2 tests and SA once at the MCG. Well so hope we bat first and post 400 to be safe. Starc and Siddle will really fire at us.

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2012, 5:07 GMT

    id say last innings was totally okay it was hard to bat n we batted well bt first innings well other than dilshan n mathews there's nothing to talk about nah ? if we had scored over 400 in the first innings it would hv been great :) anywy great captaincy by clack just great he was so positive n prevent lots of singles while lankans batting witch mahela did not mahela let aussy;s to get away n take singles n two's i think that played a big part in the match, bt in the last day it was really hard to bat so we did well hv some good hopes for the next games well this is what i think aussy;s without clack means a great chance for sri lanka :) n think its the time to give a run to nuwan pradeep a guy who can bwl over 150kph why hez sitting out side, in aussy soil ?? anywy congratulations for aussys they played batter cricket n won having said that love ma Lions :) good luck sri lanka :) :)

  • John on December 20, 2012, 2:13 GMT

    I love Oz / Sri Lankan series, the posts are always thoughtful, knowledgable and friendly rather than parochial and venomous. I was watching Starc bowling yorkers and thinking how much all genuine cricket lovers would love to have Malinga still able to last an entire test match. He has been a joy to watch in the 20/20 Big Bash over here, the younger batsmen and even some of the more experienced ones, have no idea what he is bowling. It's wonderful to watch. On to the test, I agree that Clarke made the game with his declaration but I also think that events overshadowed just how well Matthews batted. It is a shame he has the Watson disease at the moment, the ability to look totally in command then get out to odd shots. Or maybe we should call it the Mark Waugh - Sanath Jayasuraya disease in honor of past glories?

  • Andrew on December 20, 2012, 0:47 GMT

    @Sinhaya on (December 19 2012, 14:36 PM GMT) - IMO, those wickets that fell on Day 2, were a by-product of Oz's 1st innings, & you often get a few top order wickets in a 2nd innings that starts late in a day. Clarke has made several declarations around Tea time in his short captaincy career. I was more dissappointed that SLs tail did not show more fight, considering that even their worst tailender is not a real bunny. In the WIndies, some good fight by Oz's tail helped pilfer an unlikely win. I thought SL were a strong chance of a draw until I saw the reckless way Hearth batted. To blame them for the loss is a bit too much, but as I said previously an extra 8 balls per partnership for the last 4 wickets in BOTH innings would of JUST saved the match. Now Oz head to the Boxing Day clash full of confidence, & SL must be a little deflated.

  • Jojy on December 19, 2012, 23:01 GMT

    Mate Sinhaya, what i meant was that SL batsman should look to win more test matches in Eng,SA and Aus instead of just trying to put up some fight. I know that SL have won test matches in Eng and SA, but they should be winning more often to be considered a decent test side. Just look at the difference in experience between Aus and SL top 5 batsmen in terms of the number of test matches, SL should be winning the series hands down.....but instead, they are just fighting to stay in the match and series!

  • Janith Madusanka on December 19, 2012, 16:58 GMT

    Well fought Sri Lanka to draw the match.But almost no fight to win the match.That's because we had to play according to Clarke's schedule.He is the architect of the match. Better do not have excuses like pitch,toss etc.Pitch was up and down true,but both teams played on it.They just utilized it better than us.We lost the toss and got to ball first which is not bad because Australian pitches have more life in the first day.We didn't had enough venom in the attack.Where were those short stuffs to break the concentration of batsmen.SL fast bowlers develop more and this is a good opportunity. Hats off to Oz for fighting one bowler short and still winning the match.

  • Janith Madusanka on December 19, 2012, 16:18 GMT

    @Sugath on (December 19 2012, 04:24 AM GMT) can't understand your theory about refusing 4 pacies.A spinner for Kulasekara is ok but not a big deal,unless to lower the run rate more.These matches are played in Australia not in sub-continent. Which spinner would you choose? Randiv?He is not effective in SL either against Kiwis.But he might get some bounce there. Mendis?Herath is struggling to turn the ball so what of Mendis?His balls might come dead-straight for the most parts of the match.He has the variations but wont be able to execute them properly.

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