Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2012

Clarke, Watson, Johnson streak hosts ahead


Australia 8 for 440 (Clarke 106, Watson 83, Johnson 73*, Warner 62, Prasad 3-102) lead Sri Lanka 156 by 284 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It is said of golf that the measure of a player can be gleaned less by the quality of their best shots than by the quality of their worst. On day two of the Boxing Day Test, Australia's batsmen played a handful of poor strokes, but they were far less frequent and consequently less terminal than those offered up by Sri Lanka's batsmen on day one.

None of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade or Michael Hussey will be pleased with the manner of their dismissals to bowling that was more presentable than threatening. But of those only Wade erred before he had made any sort of useful contribution to what is now a handsome first innings lead. The tally was further bolstered by an impressively measured innings from Mitchell Johnson, who is making the most of this Test as though it may be his last.

By the close Australia were 284 runs ahead of Sri Lanka with three wickets left to fall, having taken suitable advantage of opponents who missed chances that had to be taken if the gulf opened up on the first day was to be narrowed. Losing the left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara to a hamstring strain, the visitors did their cause further harm by spurning chances to stump Clarke and catch Watson at slip before lunch.

Clarke capitalised by passing Ricky Ponting's record for most runs by an Australian in a calendar year on the way to a fifth century for 2012, and Watson did likewise by making his highest Test score in Australia for more than two years.

Watson succumbed to the maddening pattern of his career by falling short of a century, and Clarke did not advance far beyond one amid the loss of three wickets for four runs in mid-afternoon, but a cameo from Hussey and a more substantial stay by Johnson left the match more or less in Australia's keeping, much to the delight of a crowd of 39,486.

Resuming at 3 for 150, Clarke and Watson began cautiously, respecting the early spells of a Sri Lankan attack desperate to capitalise on the modest gains they made late on the second evening. A mere 11 runs were nudged and nodded from the day's first six overs, before the match took another turn away from the visitors.

Having already lost the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene to a thumb fracture, Sri Lanka now winced at the sight of Chanaka Welegedara clutching his right hamstring and limping from the field. He was sent to hospital for scans while Mehela Jayawardene summoned Shaminda Eranga to complete the over.

Eranga briefly threatened to add further insult to the injury tally when he used his ankle to stop Watson's stinging straight drive, but he recovered sufficiently to keep bowling. Eranga drew nervy moments from both batsmen - Watson jamming down on a yorker that squeezed close to the stumps and Clarke showing his discomfort when trying to duck under a bouncer. But he also gifted four overthrows to Clarke when he threw wildly in the general direction of the stumps following a push down the wicket from Australia's captain.

Helped by the injury and the charity, Clarke and Watson accelerated, and a trio of milestones duly followed. First came Clarke's 50, which has been a common sight in 2012. Next came Watson's half-century, which has not. It was in fact Watson's first score of better than 50 on home soil since the 2010 Boxing Day Ashes Test, a match best forgotten by Australians. Watson then was a makeshift opening batsman; now he is a No. 4 of considerable destructive potential.

Finally, as the clock ticked towards lunch, Clarke passed Ponting's runs record. It was not a mark reached without some palpitations offering Sri Lanka their best chances of the morning. Still needing two runs, he advanced somewhat hazily down the wicket to Rangana Herath, misread the line and the lack of turn, and was fortunate that Kumar Sangakkara was unsighted as the ball passed between Clarke's legs, precluding a clean take and a stumping.

Later in the same over Watson offered a simpler opportunity to Jayawardene at slip, his cut eluding the hands of the Sri Lankan captain. Clarke calmed down sufficiently to push the single that took him past Ponting, acknowledging the warm applause of the day two crowd with a wave of his bat. Clarke sought further glories beyond the interval, and skipped to his century with six boundaries in the hour after resumption, the last a swivel pull to fine leg to register his first Test hundred at the MCG.

Eranga generated some useful pace and bounce with the Great Southern Stand as his backdrop, and it was one of these deliveries that did for Clarke, who drove aggressively but minus sufficient precision to avoid a snick to his opposite number Jayawardene. Sri Lankan relief turned to glee when two more wickets swiftly followed.

Watson undid 197 balls of concentration with a hook at his 198th despite two men being posted deep for the shot, Dhammika Prasad the beneficiary when Thilan Samaraweera held the catch.That exit gave Watson the unseemly ratio of 19 50s and only two centuries in his 38 Tests. Wade perished in a similar fashion, swatting Prasad to Eranga in the deep having made only a single, and Hussey was fortunate a thin edge from Herath fell short of Jayawardene after rebounding off Sangakkara's pads.

That half-chance would be the only real glimpse of a wicket until Hussey and Johnson added an important 61, staving off the subsidence of the tail before the lead had been added to. They were parted by an extraordinary, one-handed catch from Herath when Hussey lofted wide of long on, but Johnson went on to the sort of score his batting talents have threatened rather more than they delivered. Unlike the batsmen on both sides, it may be said that so far in this innings he has seldom missed a fairway.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on December 28, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    There are some Australian in denial about the state of Australian cricket however every English fan that comments seem to inflate there own team. Time will tell where both teams sit.

  • Graham on December 28, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    cook_no1_test_opener - I dont claim that Australia will beat England in the upcoming Ashes however I know it will be a contest. You say there is a stark contrast between Australia and England in test cricket I take excemtion to this. Using the guide of form against South Africa it will be very close. The truth is England have never dominated Australia, last series in England if it was not for England narrowly holding on in cardiff then the series would have been ties. As for the last series in AUstralia - we played 2 shockers to finish the tour, this is the only domination you have over us. I agree the top order is not as strong as it used to be, but we have a good enough team to regularly score between 400 and 450 totals that you shouldnt lose with, yes spin is in free fall as no-one could ever replace Warne he was so good however we have only fallen to the English level. Lyon average is around 30 on unforgiving Australian pitches for spin bowling where the likes of Swann av above 40

  • Niles on December 28, 2012, 3:16 GMT

    Total domination by Aus. SL showed that there is a big divide between Aus, Eng, SA and the rest of test nations

  • Roo on December 28, 2012, 2:58 GMT

    @jb633 :- "Personally I would not have Hilfy near the Ashes squad as the English guys love batting against him"...

    Yeah, right - lol... Hilfenhaus last tour to Eng he played 5 Tests, 22 wkts @27.45 - if he's the worst of our bowlers, you are going to be in deep trouble...

    That you leave out Cummins, MJ & Bird shows your lack of knowledge on our Oz bowling stocks - as it type MJ has taken out the 2d Sri Lankan out of this match & Test tour & picked up his 6th wkt just afterwards...

  • David on December 28, 2012, 2:23 GMT

    @ rickyvoncanterbury I think you might be jumping the gun calling the Oz bowlers "the best attack in the world." Having just lost a home series, and sitting well behind SA in the ICC test bowling rankings, that title is a pretty hard sell for Oz's ever changing bowling lineup. Oz will have to be able to field an attack that can last more than 2 tests before they start making such grand claims. (The Poms were making that claim 6 months ago, and look at them. Broad & Bresnan are finished, wobbly knees Finn breaks down as often as Watson, & Anderson is their speedster! Ouch.) I must admit that Johnson, who was reviled by so many Aussie posters here, is making a pretty strong comeback, and he & Siddle could make a pretty strong nucleus, with potentially very strong support from Starc, Pattinson & Cummins IF they can stay fit. Be a while before they can displace Steyn & Co tho.

  • Graham on December 28, 2012, 2:18 GMT

    Clarke is averaging over 100 batting at number 5, the only people that would change that are the English supporters simply because they are scared they wont get him out. Its working so well cant see any logic in changing it. Some critics will always cry that he scared of the new ball but that will be long forgotton shortly after retirement as I havent heard any of those references for Border, Waugh even Tendulkar and Lara only batted one positon higher. Front_Foot_Lunge you have completely lost it battle for 7 and 8, Australia have only lost 4 of there last 20 tests, winning 11 of them how have England gone lately. jb633 - under your logic no use playing Swann in the Ashes and minus well forget Anderson as there Ashes record is worse than Hilfenhaus.

  • j on December 28, 2012, 0:02 GMT

    All far too easy. On with the Christmas Minnow Big Bash then. Just how long can this epic battle between a bunch of has-been who have fallen out with their board and the weakest team Australia have ever fielded drag on for?

  • Rich on December 27, 2012, 23:54 GMT

    @dunger.bob, The truth is Australia have been in free fall with their top order and bowling, especially spin department for five years or more. That is a slide down, and they've ended up in obscurity. And I do find it amusing how some posters here flatly deny the stark contrast between England and Australia at test cricket, even going to nefarious means like masquerading as English fans to make a comically inept attempt to twist the debate away from Australia's failings. I hope you enjoyed the display. Credits go to my name sake with the lowercase 'l', of whom I'm always flattered he chose to copy my username for quality purposes.

  • Rich on December 27, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    @disco_bob You speak highly of fanciful scenarios but say I were to mention the number '766', or any of the events over the last five years of England's dominance over Australia, I wonder if you'd be so bold in your assertions.

    As for 'valient' Clarke, you'd be hard pressed to convince anyone outside your bubble of the appropriacy of that adjective with a guy that hides at five in the batting order, and never faces a seaming or swinging ball because his technique just isn't up to it. England have a big grin on their faces just thinking about bowling next year at Aussie newbies with flawed techniques and the same old amateurs they trounced in the last five years of Ashes.

  • Rich on December 27, 2012, 23:40 GMT

    @rickyvoncanterbury, What an irony, it was England that famously whitewashed the then great India with their list of batting superstars, took the number 1 from them, and so set them up on a plate for Australia. Quite a selective memory.

    @Cricket-tragic-AU, Well done on a brave attempt to sidestep the fact that Australian fans going cock-a-hoop over a series involving a tragically weak Sri Lankan team, afflicted by a has-been batting line up who have all fallen out with the Sri Lankan cricket board, is like the Skegness 3rd XL celebrating promotion to the Featherstone Brewery Second Division when compared to the skill that England showed in batting on minefields in India.