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The MCG pitch was quick and Australia's attack assured, but neither were the menace Sri Lanka's batsmen made them out to be
Andrew Fernando at the MCG
December 26, 2012
On the eve of the fixture, Mahela Jayawardene was asked to recall the biggest Test crowd his side had ever played for. "Lord's," he offered, "and maybe Mumbai and Madras. Tomorrow might be a special day." None of those stadia can even seat the number that stepped through turnstiles on Boxing Day in Melbourne. In Sri Lanka's 30-year Test history, they have never had a greater crowd than the 67,138 that saw them stripped of their fight and bullied out of their senses at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Even on a difficult tour of South Africa, spiced with green pitches and against the best pace attack in the world, Sri Lanka had not succumbed so woefully in the first innings. The Melbourne surface may have been faster than Sri Lanka had expected, but as David Warner illustrated with a boisterous 62 from 46, it was also tempered with a good deal of the benign. Likewise Australia's attack was intense and assured, but it was hardly the menace Sri Lanka's batsmen made it out to be.
Sri Lanka had spoken of how critical stability from the top order would be to any hope of victory, but in recent Tests, the most experienced group in the team have given the most flight to failure. Sharp swing bowling might have been their downfall in the home Tests against New Zealand, but at the MCG, they fashioned a collapse from indiscipline.
Tillakaratne Dilshan can cite his sparkling Hobart ton as justification for a hyper-aggressive approach despite the presence of swing, but even the "that's how I play" defense will be stretched thin by the baffling swipe across the line that allowed a Mitchell Johnson inswinger to disturb his stumps. There is a grey area between audacity and imprudence that players of Dilshan's ilk are allowed to tread, but there is a limit to talent, and fetching a straightening delivery on a fast surface with as wild a stroke as that is perhaps task beyond any batsman.
Mahela Jayawardene was out wafting at a delivery that was never threatening the stumps early in his innings. It is a manner of dismissal that has almost defined his career outside Sri Lanka, and severely frustrated his claims to batting greatness. Deliveries of that line trouble most batsmen early in their innings, but for a man of Jayawardene's talent, he has been staggeringly incapable of overcoming that weakness. In the last two years, he has averaged under 18 outside Asia, in eight Tests.
Thilan Samaraweera was out hooking - a rarity for him, which makes his dismissal so puzzling it is almost unfathomable. Angelo Mathews then drove hard at a wide one, when Sri Lanka's innings was already in tatters. There is occasional merit in launching a counterattack, especially on a pitch as good as this for batting, but having seen three of his team-mates out to loose strokes already, perhaps Mathews would have been better served by the resolve he has so often proved himself capable of. He is saved from the most exacting scrutiny by the shortcomings of the seniors above him, but he will likely be Test captain soon and he will then find moments of such incaution will attract far less generous assessments.
It is difficult to suggest a method of improvement, because as coach Graham Ford noted after play, Sri Lanka's collapse was no major fault of technique. It has been the case throughout their last few innings, where various batsmen have looked in form at different times but they have stumbled collectively. Much of the talk from the Sri Lanka camp before the match had been about staying grounded despite the significance of the Boxing Day Test, but perhaps that is a mental feat they did not quite manage.
"Some of it could be as a result of it being such a big occasion and the boys have been looking forward to it for such a long time," Ford said. "I think the desire to do well is extremely high, which at times can create a little extra pressure. It's not a technical thing, and I certainly know it's not a work ethic thing. The guys have worked unbelievably hard on skills that are required in these conditions. Once you get out there though, you've got to have a clear mind and you've got to make good decisions. I think Kumar showed just how important that is."
The capitulation was all the more disheartening because the day could have been one of celebration for Sri Lanka's greatest batsman. Kumar Sangakkara batted with the poise and skill entirely befitting a man who confirmed himself statistically among cricket's batting elite by crossing the 10,000-run threshold. He struck a trio of sublime boundaries off Johnson a few overs before an immaculate cover drive brought up the milestone just before lunch, as the biggest crowd he has ever played for roared their appreciation. By becoming equal fastest to the mark alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and one innings ahead of Ricky Ponting, Sangakkara's achievement is Sri Lanka's second-best individual success after Muttiah Muralitharan's wicket tally, but his day's memories will be marred by the meekness of his colleagues. He deserves better than that from the team he has served so consistently, for so long.
Sri Lanka's bowling attack now finds itself having to bring the team into a match that may already have slipped away, when it was that batting that ought to have hidden the attack's inadequacies with a big total. Sri Lanka have stressed that this is a bowling attack in transition throughout the tour, but judging from the scorecards so far, you would think it was their batting that has been weak, green and ineffective.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondentFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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