Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne

Showpiece for hosts, last chance for tourists

Daniel Brettig

December 25, 2012

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Match facts


Michael Clarke and Usman Khawaja at practice, Melbourne, December 24, 2012
Should Michael Clarke be absent, Usman Khawaja will return to Test match duty © Getty Images
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December 26-30, MCG
Start time 1030 (2330 GMT)

Big Picture

Australian cricket's biggest day conjures up plenty of memories for the hosts, but only one painful recollection for the visitors. The MCG on Boxing Day was the scene of Darrell Hair's fateful decision to call Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing, in a match that finished in a comfortable 10-wicket victory for Mark Taylor's Australians. Back then, the result was entirely overshadowed by anger surrounding Hair's decision, and the bitterness it engendered was to infect the rest of the tour. This time around there is no such issue burning away, though the ball tampering allegations that marked the latter stages of the Bellerive Oval match provided a reminder that Australia and Sri Lanka seldom oppose one another without something rancorous cropping up.

Pushed into the final hour by Mahela Jayawardene's tourists before claiming victory in Hobart, Australia seek a series win to conclude a year that has been moderately successful if not overwhelmingly so. They remain a team in development, and will take on an even more transitional look on Boxing Day should Michael Clarke not recover from a hamstring strain in time. His absence would hand the captaincy to Shane Watson, while opening the way for Usman Khawaja's recall. The bowling attack has already been re-shaped, Mitchell Johnson and the debutant Jackson Bird shuffling into the spaces left by Ben Hilfenhaus (injured) and Mitchell Starc (unhappily rested).

The Sri Lankans must defy a history of Test match underachievement in Australia if they are to keep the series alive. They have never won a five-day encounter down under, though in Hobart they came close to securing a stalemate. Melbourne and Sydney will afford the visitors pitches more useful to their cause than Hobart proved to be, with Rangana Herath a considerable threat on surfaces offering even a modicum of turn. The greater question for Sri Lanka will be which pacemen can step up to provide wicket-taking support - the lack of an effective pace spearhead has been the overwhelming reason behind their lack of a victory on these shores.

Form guide

(Most recent first)
Australia WLDDW
Sri Lanka LLWDD

In the spotlight

Even if Shane Watson does not walk out to toss the coin on the first morning, he will be expected to contribute more substantially in this Test than either of the previous two. So far since his return from injury, Watson has looked a little out of sorts as a batsman, yet to go past 30 in four innings and struggling notably with Herath at Bellerive. Nonetheless, there were signs in Hobart that Watson is growing into more of a leader - his longer-than-usual bowling stints after Hilfenhaus was injured were critical to Australia's ultimate success, even if the wickets column did not suggest it. Having played an undersung role in that result, Watson will now want his name in lights. A Boxing Day century, his first in Tests since 2010, would do that nicely.

In his final series as captain, Mahela Jayawardene dearly wants to leave a Test match mark in Australia. The current outfit is doughty and persistent, but require an influential score by their leader in Melbourne to put Australia under the requisite pressure to push for victory. There are suggestions Jayawardene may have been distracted by a board dispute in recent days, while the ball tampering episode in Hobart indicated that this is a touring team that does not wish to go quietly. Having overcome all manner of squabbles and snares over his career, Jayawardene's capacity to cope is well known. He has the Melbourne Test, and its expected influx of Sri Lankan supporters, to give Australia some headaches.

Team news

Clarke's fitness remains the major question for Australia, and it appears more likely he will be saved for future contests rather than carrying a tender hamstring into the Test. Bird is set to debut as the owner of handsome records for Tasmania in Sheffield Shield cricket in general and at the MCG in particular.

Australia 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Phillip Hughes, 4 Shane Watson, 5 Michael Clarke/Usman Khawaja, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jackson Bird.

The tourists appear likely to enter the match unchanged from their Hobart combination, though Dhammika Prasad is on standby for Nuwan Kulasekara, who is still sore after a blow to the ribs in Hobart.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Shaminda Eranga, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.

Pitch and conditions

Melbourne's weather is forecast to be pleasantly temperate for the week, while the pitch is also on course to be even tempered, if a little lively early on. The ground's new head curator David Sandurski has likened the Test strip to that played on by Victoria and South Australia in a November Shield fixture, in which the left-arm paceman Gary Putland plucked 12 wickets but Phillip Hughes cracked 158 on his way back to the national team.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka's one previous Boxing Day visit to the MCG resulted in a 10-wicket defeat in 1995 - infamous as the match in which Muttiah Muralitharan was called for throwing by the umpire Darrell Hair
  • If passed fit, Michael Clarke needs another 55 runs to better Ricky Ponting's Australian record for most runs in a calendar year
  • Kumar Sangakkara enters the match 40 short or passing 10,000 Test runs

Quotes

"It's improving every day. I did a fair bit of running today in the indoor nets. A decision can't be made today. I really need to wait and see how I pull up tomorrow morning."
Michael Clarke on his problematic hamstring

"I think we've been through a lot of hostile things in the past. 1995 was one thing, and even after that. I don't think it will faze our guys at all. If anything that might give us a little extra."
Mahela Jayawardene on the prospect of facing a rough crowd in Melbourne

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by sam264 on (December 26, 2012, 1:16 GMT)

Little gets said about the braveness of daryl hair that day, it was a decision that pretty much ended his career but ultimately he was within his rights and also correct in his call. Cricket has changed since that call, bowlers all around the world bend there arms to a certain degree legally which opens up so many more balls to an off spin bowler , which brings us to the Australian side.. Nathan Lyon is basically ineffectual he can't close out a test on the last day and doesn't have enough variety in his bowling to trouble batsmen, Consequently the pace bowlers are bowling a lot more in tests and breaking down because the spinner isn't wrapping games up and they are suffering more wear and tear. Should Australia pick its 4 best bowlers or 3 best and a spin bowler that has no effect?

Posted by cardassian on (December 26, 2012, 0:08 GMT)

C'mon Aussie show us what your capable of. Best wishes from a Kiwi cricket fan.

Posted by 200ondebut on (December 25, 2012, 22:50 GMT)

SA and Eng are head and shoulders above the rest - this is just playing for third place.

Posted by oval77 on (December 25, 2012, 22:23 GMT)

Even if Clarke's out, I'll be pleased to see Khawaja given an opportunity again. From over here in the UK it seems baffling that he hasn't been given a longer run. Good luck to both teams..

Posted by pat_one_back on (December 25, 2012, 21:48 GMT)

@Lastride, LOL, Sth Africa were outplayed at home in between and barely snuck past Aust this summer no small thanks to injuries. It was supposed to be a 3 nil whitewash and yet SA barely got away with clean underpants. SA are number 1 but not by as far as some would like to think.

Posted by Mitcher on (December 25, 2012, 21:08 GMT)

Can't wait for a bit of Boxing Day action. Hopefully a hard fought match. Unsurprising the saffer trolls don't mention their home record. Unable to beat England, Australia or EVEN INDIA at home at last attempt. Hardly the stuff of a legendary side. Just another throne-warmer until someone decides to create a real great team again.

Posted by dr.thirsty on (December 25, 2012, 21:06 GMT)

Can an Aussie fan tell me if Starc is carrying a niggle? Everything I have read says that he is being rested. Now granted that rotation is here to stay given heavy schedules and granted that Oz have experienced young bowlers picking up injuries and further granted that Starc is still a young 'un and may need some protection. But given all of that, he has played only 2 tests in the last month (and taken 14 wkts iirc). Is CA taking caution to new, almost precious, heights? With at least 4 bowlers unavailable that would presumably be in the team before Starc, why would they want to bring in another debutant when Starc has done so well? Baffles me.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2012, 20:51 GMT)

Obviously Australia are favourites, but they have to work hard here and look to dominate the contest. Nothing short of that attitude will keep them on their upward plane. Really looking forward to seeing how Bird responds to going up a level. I'm hoping he has a breakout match as he seems far more durable and consistent than most of the other youngsters around. Good luck to both teams!

Posted by   on (December 25, 2012, 19:52 GMT)

Boxing day Test I am sure Australia will win convincingly. They got more wins here. Go Australia. Warner and Watson will be the biggest stars here. 2 - 0 definite. Australia is the number one team to beat in Melbourne. Go go go Australia

From an Indian Fan

Posted by gnanzcupid on (December 25, 2012, 19:15 GMT)

@sneakybastard knowing the form your team is in and with a set talentless youngsters who prove to be weak link in team,its better you dont challenge any team to come for your home test at Galle. Is that defeat by NZ not enough?do u want more?

Posted by gnanzcupid on (December 25, 2012, 19:10 GMT)

Will have to wait and watch if the Lankans have any back bone.Clarke's absence might spice the game up.But i dont see Sl winning this match by any means as the home seamers are actually pumped up and ready for the occasion.Lyon had been scratchy which is probably the only weak link in the team.The formula is to get Sanga and Mahela out cheaply and the match will be wrapped by us in less than 4 days

Posted by swauzzie on (December 25, 2012, 17:42 GMT)

@Tommytucker Don't worry mate your Saffers will be there soon enough - by the looks of how they went down under this year! The number 1 test team in the world can't get outclassed 10 out of 15 days by a lowly no 3 team & stay at no 1!

Posted by Last_ride on (December 25, 2012, 15:09 GMT)

@Beertije dont be ridiculous we would have comprehensively thrashed Sri Lanka there. In fact they chickened out by pulling the test matches out.This is different South Africa. A team that Thrashed England in England twice. And then beat Australia in Australia twice. Enjoying this minnow battle.

Posted by Beertjie on (December 25, 2012, 13:34 GMT)

@sneakybastard on (December 25 2012, 12:54 PM GMT) Not only did Aus "dare to test Srilanka on home conditions - they won at Galle last year. That's more than the #1 team could ever do!

Posted by sneakybastard on (December 25, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

as a Srilankan fan I would rate followings as the biggest venues of test cricket. 1) Boxing day MCG vs Aus 2) first summer game at Lords vs Eng 3) Vs India at Ahmedabad 4) at Durban vs SA

If anyone dare to test Srilanka on home conditions - they should come down to Galle. Said that, I'm greatly honored and thankful to the Australian cricket board for inviting us be a part of this prestigious day.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (December 25, 2012, 12:05 GMT)

No. 3 vs No.6.... What a cliffhanger......

Posted by Mitch069 on (December 25, 2012, 11:26 GMT)

Given we rested Starc you would think we would rest a injured Clarke otherwise the selection policy does not make sense. Khawaja is a very good replacement but no one can do what Clarke has done this year but we need to think for the remainder of the season and not just 1 game for Clarke. What do other people think.

Posted by Mary_786 on (December 25, 2012, 11:23 GMT)

We need Clarke but only if he is fit to play, if not then he will risk not only his long term injury but also cost the team in a crucial game. Khawaja will be a good replacement if given the chance but no one can truly replace Clarke given his current form and leadership.

Posted by Trapper439 on (December 25, 2012, 11:13 GMT)

As an Aussie I obviously can't speak for the Sri Lankan fans, but I personally think that the author's statement that "Australia and Sri Lanka seldom oppose one another without something rancorous cropping up" is incorrect.

Since the days of Duleep Mendis and Aravinda de Silva I've always enjoyed seeing Sri Lanka visit our shores. For my money, this contest is one of the most friendly in cricket.

Posted by Herath-UK on (December 25, 2012, 10:44 GMT)

Whatever may be the final result the Lankans look a confident lot entering this Test.They talk positive and they look determined and I won't hesitate to take a bet on them winning! Ranil Herath - Kent

Posted by wellrounded87 on (December 25, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

If Watson doesn't perform in this test he needs to go. And Ben Cutting should come in as a replacement. Cutting is a much better bowler and probably about as useful if not more useful with the bat

Posted by swauzzie on (December 25, 2012, 9:06 GMT)

@Dean Frenkel - Malinga would not be a good idea for SL. After 4 overs they'd be down one man. He can't cope with the longer formats anymore. If he could play, the Aussies'd be in trouble - Malinga is awesome! :) A Mendis aint bad either! But the way i looks now, I think that SL won't be breaking their no win streak....

Posted by Biggus on (December 25, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

Welcome to the Boxing Day test SL, hope you give us a run for our money and we end up with a great game.

Posted by PFEL on (December 25, 2012, 8:56 GMT)

Dean, Malinga is too lazy to play Test cricket, and I have a feeling mendis wouldn't be particularly useful on Aus pitches, and that he would go for a lot of runs

Posted by 1st_april on (December 25, 2012, 8:54 GMT)

Michael Clarke should play.....Watson started as a batsman who can bowl....but now increasingly looking a bowler who bat.....we don't want such mercurial talent as the talent....make no mistake....Watson is mercurial in TESTS...hopefully a great test....last year against India was really good with 3 good fighting days....the only days which looked like a 'contest' to be honest in that series..... SL can have a chance if they bat first and score 400+ , Herath will enjoy bowling here and at the SCG.....5-fer in Hobart...he can be a threat to Australia.....

Posted by Uppercut07 on (December 25, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

c'mon cricinfo, u have to say SL needs a 'Christmas Miracle' to win, like u said before Durban test last year on Boxing day! :D)

Posted by   on (December 25, 2012, 7:57 GMT)

Ok this Test is about to start, but if the Sri Lankan attack continues to prove futile, just two things would shake up the Australians for the 3rd Test in Sydney. The inclusion of Lasith Malinga or Ajantha Mendis. Want to win Sri Lanka's first Test in Australia? Include one of these world beaters.

Posted by landl47 on (December 25, 2012, 7:51 GMT)

I'm looking forward to watching some good cricket over the next few days, although with due respect to Khawaja, it will be better if Clarke is playing.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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