Sri Lanka seek inspiration from Durban 2011
For most of Sri Lanka's Test squad, Christmas may almost seem like déjà vu, having found themselves in a near-identical situation this time last year. Chasing their first ever win in South Africa, Sri Lanka had been defeated on a difficult surface in the first Test, though their demise on that occasion had been scripted on a Centurion greentop that derailed their first innings, unlike the fissured Hobart track that made survival difficult on the final day.
In Australia, Rodney Hogg had announced the visiting quicks "the worst new-ball attack" ever to arrive in the country, but in South Africa, Sri Lanka had suffered an even more injurious assessment, when Kepler Wessels claimed even South Africa's A side could defeat the visitors. On both occasions, Sri Lanka have largely been viewed as soft opposition against whom youngsters may be blooded and sides can be bedded down for more harrowing tests ahead.
But in the test starting on 2011's Boxing Day, Sri Lanka stunned their hosts on a dry surface in Durban to record as unexpected a victory as any in the year. A Thilan Samaraweera century and Chanaka Welegedara rampage in the first innings secured a 170-run first-innings lead, before 108 to Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath's five-wicket haul delivered the 208-run win.
Sri Lanka's fifth-day fight at Bellerive Oval that had delayed Australia's victory until the final hour constituted a more meritorious showing than the innings-loss at the Centurion, and Sangakkara was hopeful that a lift in performance would be easier to achieve for this year's Boxing Day Test. The MCG surface is also expected to be more given to turn than the Hobart pitch.
"I think Durban is a great example of how we bounced back," Sangakkara said. "We went there knowing that that was a wicket that's more suited for our style of play. Centurion I don't think anyone has experienced in a long time the kind of wicket we got. Here again similar sort of scenario. Different sides of course, but the only different is that the conditions might not be as spin friendly as it was in Durban. But we have three to four fast bowlers who can do a job for us."
Sri Lanka are likely to field the same seam attack that played in the first Test, where the fast men were economical in patches, but lacked penetration until reverse swing arrived in earnest on the fourth day. Welegedara collected six of the eight wickets taken by Sri Lanka's seam bowlers, having found pace and rhythm in the second innings, which he had lacked in the first. Shaminda Eranga was also intermittently wayward, but delivered tight spells in patches, surpassing 140 kph regularly, while Nuwan Kulasekara was reliable but wicketless.
"With our bowling I think we have got to be we have to be more consistent and put pressure on batsmen. It doesn't matter that we can't bowl at 145 or 145. What matters is that we put the ball in the right areas. A good ball is a good ball for anyone. We have the skills to do that. On occasions like Boxing Day Test Matches it's important that we get everything together.
"That said we have three to four fast bowlers who can do the job for us. It's interesting to see how people step up. You need to look at our fast-bowling line-up and each one is different and each on has got the ability to go out there and take those wickets. If we go out there with a positive frame of mind knowing that we have done the hard work at training, it will be a good game."
Sangakkara also called for increased resolve from Sri Lanka's experienced top order, who had slipped to 87 for 4 in Hobart, before a strong partnership from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews revived the innings. The top order had also collectively had a poor series against New Zealand, in two Tests at home, though various players had passed fifty in different innings.
"It's great that we are playing a Boxing Day Test Match. It's important that we realise that it's a great occasion and also understand where we went wrong in the first Test. First innings is always important, especially when you are playing good sides. We really need to buckle down and put on a good enough total for our bowlers to be able to put pressure on the opposition from that position onwards."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent