Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 1st day

Clarke, Johnson brought back to earth

Apart from the admirably persistent Jackson Bird, Australia's first Test match day of 2013 was far from auspicious

Daniel Brettig at the SCG

January 3, 2013

Comments: 46 | Text size: A | A

Jackson Bird finished with 4 for 41, Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 1st day, January 3, 2013
Thanks mostly to Jackson Bird's consistency and Sri Lanka's porous lower order, Australia's missteps were not punished too severely © Getty Images
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A week ago, in a world where Tony Greig still lived and Michael Hussey was locked in for the 2013 Ashes series, Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke deflected the suggestions that the game had become easy for them. Johnson had just terrorised Sri Lanka's batsmen, sending two of them to hospital on the way to plucking the match award for the Boxing Day Test, and Clarke had peeled off a century despite a tender hamstring to conclude the most prolific year by any Australian.

While they responded to those suggestions that they had mastered the game - Johnson for a week, Clarke for the year - with the sportsman's typical reply that cricket defies such control, the evidence on display for most of day one in Sydney indicated a momentary loss of perspective. Reflecting a dim view of the opposition and the task at hand, Australia chose an unbalanced team, Clarke made one of his more questionable choices upon winning the toss, and Johnson's bowling returned to its more erratic extremes, failing to harvest a single wicket.

Sri Lanka, completely bedraggled by injury and free-fallen confidence entering the match, were thus allowed to wriggle to some sort of tally, grateful for the application of Lahiru Thirimanne and a long-awaited overseas score for Mahela Jayawardene. They might have done better still without the pesky presence of Jackson Bird in Australia's XI, who in his second Test showed a maturity of approach that rendered laughable any pre-match notions that he had been the last of five bowlers chosen for the match.

Bird's follow-up success was a vindication of his adherence to a consistent method and a thoughtful approach, in contrast to some of his fellow bowlers. It also cast harsh light on the way the Australians had prepared themselves for this match, the notion of facing negligible opposition clearly impacting on the selection of the squad, the team and the choice at the toss. Johnson's inclusion as an allrounder ahead of Glenn Maxwell, another speculative choice, proffered the selectors' view that to defeat Sri Lanka in Sydney, Australia could get by with five batsmen.

Clarke's decision to insert Sri Lanka on a surface drier than it appeared seemed geared by the expectation of a swift victory with five bowlers. It was in defiance of the views of the SCG curator, Tom Parker, who reckoned the pitch had less moisture in it than last summer's equivalent against India, which had offered helpful movement for much of the first day. It was also a decision that ran almost as contrary to the history of the ground as the choosing of four pacemen - the last team to send the opposition in on winning the toss was Mohammad Azharuddin's Indians in 1992, the most recent before that Greg Chappell against England on a rain-affected strip in 1980.

The first over of the morning had hinted that some early life was on offer, as Mitchell Starc swung and bounced the new ball with venom. But it was soon to flatten out into a very pleasant and not particularly fast batting strip, leaving the bowlers to toil for long tracts. Bird claimed a pair of wickets before lunch, Dimuth Karunaratne to an abortive pull shot and Tillakaratne Dilshan to a nicely pitched ball that nipped away handily, but admitted afterwards that it had not been the easiest day for the pacemen on a "beautiful wicket for batting". Nathan Lyon found some early spin that will interest Ragana Herath, particularly now he has the chance to bowl last.

"At lunch we had a bit of a chat about how we probably bowled two sides of the wicket, a little bit short with the new ball, and probably weren't patient enough," Bird said. "If you put the ball in the right areas enough and stood the seam up you'd get something out of it. It was pretty similar to Melbourne, there was a little bit this morning and we just weren't good enough to stand the seam up and get that movement."

Bird managed to fulfil this commission ably, but Johnson returned to the kinds of spells that had pushed him to the edge of losing his Test place before injury ensured he would disappear from the scene for most of last summer. Having used the new ball with aggression and direction in Melbourne, here Johnson was the fourth paceman used, and did not adjust too well to the change.

Short balls that had broken fingers at the MCG were ducked under or taken bravely on the body by Sri Lanka's batsmen, swinging deliveries were often misdirected, and he was taken for close to 4.5 runs per over. Cast as a No. 7 batsman in this match, Johnson will need to show his sense of belonging has not been dented by an indifferent spell at the bowling crease.

Thanks to Bird's consistency, Starc's capacity for bowling a handful of ripping deliveries amid larger quantities of the mediocre, and Sri Lanka's porous lower order, these missteps were not punished too severely. But they should be remembered by Australia's leaders, for the rest of the year will provide precious few opportunities for similar breathing room, given the steep rise in the quality of the opposition and the difficulty of the conditions to be faced in India and England.

As demonstrated by the sudden loss of Greig, and reinforced by the surprise retirement of Hussey, nothing is guaranteed. Lacking the overpowering talent of previous incarnations, this Australian team must maximise their chances by avoiding errors in judgement and moments of hubris.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Webba84 on (January 4, 2013, 4:44 GMT)

Meh, as far as I can see the state of the match so far vindicates the decision. While Watson is injured its worth trying Johnson as an all rounder and a dead rubber against weak opponents is the best situation to try it. Brettig, you seem to think that Australia are suffering because of perceived hubris when in actually fact while it is a closer match than last time (it would be hard not to be) Aus are still firmly in control and at no stage look like losing. I see these decisions as an experiment making use of the opportunity, there is nothing arrogant about that. Australia is right to be planning for India and the Ashes.

Posted by cricmypassion on (January 4, 2013, 4:24 GMT)

@mikey, Australia will do well against the current Indian side. The Indian batters can't seem to survive 5-6 overs of swing bowling against Pak. And we all know that they were at Sea against England spinners. I only hope Australia doesn't use that trip as an yardstick for their progress - a mediocre Indian side is no competition. With respect to this series, having lost their best batsman, SL is doing well. Lets hope SL gets to set a 300 run target for OZ in the 4th inning. That would set it up.

Posted by Benkl on (January 4, 2013, 2:10 GMT)

If we had Maxwell we would still have Johnson , Bird was the last man so id say selection was excellent.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 1:30 GMT)

Mitch averages 41 in SCG vs 24.88 in other Aussie grounds. He simply can't adjust his length for SCG. Please DO NOT SELECT Mitch for any SCG matches.

Posted by Yakka-04 on (January 4, 2013, 0:33 GMT)

people are reading far to much into these. to bowl a team out on first day is really good. Under 300 is even better. Australia is judged far to harshly. they are being judged on for competitiveness to the past Aussie team.They are a young side capable of getting to the number 1 position in the future if they stay together.

Posted by Moppa on (January 4, 2013, 0:29 GMT)

@Moz, India v England would have been better named the "Hubris Leads to Decline Trophy". @SKC412, the 'steep rise in standard' implies that England, who Australia play after India, are much better than India, as they proved in the recent series. @Ian Walker, spot on. @reddawn1975, how much more evidence do you need that Johnson is brilliant one day, useless the next? Check out the following match scorecards: Perth 2008 (brilliant), MCG 2008 (useless). Headingley 2009 (brilliant), The Oval 2009 (useless). Wellington 2010 (brilliant), Lords/Leeds 2010 (useless). Perth 2010 (brilliant), MCG/Sydney 2011 (useless). He should be nowhere near our bowling line-up for Trent Bridge, but does have a role as a dangerous, albeit risky, back-up. @pat_one_back, I assume the Marsh you mention is Mitch? Surely he's a worse pick than Smith and Maxwell (i.e. diabolical rather than merely embarrassing) at this stage of his career (FC avg of 22). Henriques would be a bit better, let's say 'hopeful'.

Posted by Busie1979 on (January 4, 2013, 0:20 GMT)

"Lacking the overpowering talent of previous incarnations" - probably, but there is a lot to like about this Australian team and I would not be surprised if they become a dominant team in 2-3 years. I more or less agree with the general thrust of this article, but I think if the team finds a couple of batsmen and Lyon evolves into a world class spinner, this team is not too far behind South Africa.

Posted by VivGilchrist on (January 4, 2013, 0:08 GMT)

Why all the criticism? Bowling out a team for 294 on a strip like this is a good effort. It actually makes sense to choose 5 bowlers on a very good batting pitch. A standard 6-1-4 team would probably have a batsman in surplus on a track like this. 5 bowlers gives you more chance of taking 20 wickets. No other team gets criticized as much as the Aussies.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 0:00 GMT)

Lets wait until after day 2 before was start accusing people of hubris shall we. If Australia are 0 - 550 at stumps then the sentiments of this article will be about as relevant as the Sri Lankan bowling attack. I like the look of this side with Johnson as the all-rounder frankly. At least he CAN do damage with bat and ball and is generally fit. As far as Micks decision to bowl and the performance of the bowlers generally ... bowling any team out under 300 is good. Thira deserves more praise than the Aussies deserve crticism. It was a great innings.

Posted by TheBigBoodha on (January 3, 2013, 23:25 GMT)

@mikey76, another one with a chip on the shoulder. It's only a game, sir. And you know perfectly well that Australia is just behind the top spot on the test rankings. SA has beaten Australia 4 times in the 11 internationals played this last year, and lost 5. That hardly suggests the massive difference in cricket talent between the two countries you insist upon, and you saw for yourself what happened in the test series before Pattinson broke down and the entire fastbowling unit replaced. Statistically, Siddle is better than Morkel, and I'm guessing you put the latter in the world class category and reject the merits of the former.

Posted by Sidecast on (January 3, 2013, 23:15 GMT)

"Having used the new ball with aggression and direction in Melbourne, here Johnson was the fourth paceman used, and did not adjust too well to the change."

So why didn't Johnson get the new ball again? Especially ahead of Starc. A bowler who has now opened the bowling in seven innings and has taken a total of zero wickets from those seven spells. 27/6/94/0.

Posted by Skott on (January 3, 2013, 22:53 GMT)

"At lunch we had a bit of a chat about how we probably bowled two sides of the wicket, a little bit short with the new ball, and probably weren't patient enough," Bird said.

Why did they wait until lunch? Surely it takes about 10 seconds for Clarke to go over to a bowler and say, "Pitch the ball up and on/just outside off stump or your dropped for the next test."

Why did they have to be told anything at all. Surely professional bowlers know where they need to bowl the ball by now.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (January 3, 2013, 22:36 GMT)

Absolutely thrilled with bowling Sri Lank a out for 300 on one of the flattest wickets ever seen. THis seems to be similar to the wicket the AUssies peeled of 4/650 against India. Disappointing that we put two quite getable chances down, Jayawardena whilst in single figures and Wade put down Thirimane in the 60's. THere was countless edges that flew for 4 today, so in al l a very good bowling performance. I didnt think Johnson bowled as bad a some people are saying, he created chances just wasnt his day. THe number of bad balls could be counted on one hand. Gutsy choice to bowl first from Clarke but the batting was always going to be at its best day 2 and 3 and now we get the chance to bat on those days.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

"Clarke had peeled off a century" ...... really??

He faced a weakened SL attack with Chanaka pulling up with a hammy when he was in his 20's.

During Clarke's innings - - he was dropped on 5; - there was a missed stumping on 54; - he nicked a catch through slips on 83.

Just another lucky innings for Clarke. If the luck runs out, so will the big scores.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 21:35 GMT)

@Dirk_L. Australia lost its recent home series to South Africa by 1-2? I must have missed the fourth and fifth test in that series. Tell me, did Australia take the fourth test before losing the decider, or did they just take the dead rubber with the South Africans resting all their big guns in preparation for the boxing day T20? Keen to hear how it went as I can't find the scorecards or reports anywhere... ?

Posted by sonicattack on (January 3, 2013, 21:08 GMT)

Not quite sure why some of the Aus fans are so thrilled with 'rolling SL out for just under 300' - I've always felt that, when putting a side in you are hoping to have them all out for 250 max, especially in this case with the fabled 5 man Australian attack, including the ' new McGrath' (after two tests), and the spinner who ripped and bounced it and came away with one wicket, and of course the strike bowler whose radar was awry again.@Dirk_L - like your comments, you Saffers will have to get used to such comments jonesey2 and RandyOz!!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (January 3, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

What a minnow battle this has been: an average seam bowling from Australia, no spinner to speak of, playing against has-been greats on the Sri Lankan side, inept captaincy from Clarke to send them in on a flat deck, Sri lankan batsmen not willing to show up- this match is already one which is not an exhibition of fine cricketing skill.

Posted by Someguy on (January 3, 2013, 20:49 GMT)

@sawifan - Henriques would not be getting picked on "potential alone". He would be getting picked on form. This season he is averaging 78.5 with the bat and 17.69 with the ball. With 13 wickets in 4 matches. Playing at 6, he would be a better choice than Maxwell by far for test matches. And with Watson and MacDonald injured and no other fast/medium pace all rounders worth mentioning, he would be a logical choice to replace Watson in the team.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (January 3, 2013, 20:42 GMT)

Well look on the bright side guys... Wade didn't have to take the gloves off and bowl this time! No excuses now - he can't be tired and needs a century to justify his place in the team. What do you mean "nothing is guaranteed" Daniel? Front-Foot-Lunge going on about "The Christmas Minnow Big Bash" is almost as certain as death and taxes on these threads...

Posted by mikey76 on (January 3, 2013, 20:32 GMT)

Hilarious comments from you know who again. Pathalogical delusion would be a term psychiatrists would use to describe him. Possessing just one player of genuine world class does not make you the best team. SA can boast probably 6 WC players and England 5. The ICC rankings have Aus a middle ranking side in all formats, which is refelected in past results. They have lost the most recent series to the teams at 1 & 2. End of story. As for Jackson Bird, he's bowling against SL who are a very poor side. Lets see how he goes in India.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 20:32 GMT)

This Test result now depends on the revamped Aussie batting line-up. If Clarke et al can bat well and accumulate a high first innings score, thereby avoiding batting last and sidestepping Heranga, the match will be theirs for the taking.Would be great to see Hussey go out with a win and on a persona lhigh with a hundred.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 19:07 GMT)

To roll them for under 300 on that deck was a good days work. Let's see how their lineup pans out. I can't see how Clarke has been brought back to earth at this stage.

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (January 3, 2013, 19:05 GMT)

This time next year it will be 4 ashes series losses in a row for 'strrralya

Posted by Dirk_L on (January 3, 2013, 18:54 GMT)

@jonesy2: "the world's best side"? You think Saffers aren't reading this discussion? Get real mate: this Aus side not only lost a home series 1-2 to SA just a couple of months ago, they also lost a home test to NZ (ranked 8th now) a year ago. The current Aus side is a two--man, shortly to be a one-man, team. Superhero Clarke and the other Michael have been carrying a motley collection of mediocre trudgers, T20 sloggers, aged has-beens and ephemeral never-will-be's for almost a year now. Australia will be the world's best side again, maybe even under Clarke. But it won't be the side playing in this match.

Posted by stormy16 on (January 3, 2013, 17:26 GMT)

Not sure what the deal here is - yes SL werent bowled out for 150 but Aus will take dismissing the opposition for 300 with the best batting conditions probably in the next two days. If Aus are expecting to beat teams like they did with Warne and Mcgrath then its time to wake up - those days are long gone.

Posted by Peterincanada on (January 3, 2013, 17:21 GMT)

@reddawn1975 I agree with you about the mindless running down of both one's own players and players from other countries. There are a number of regular posters who are either mentally challenged or lead sad lives and are desperate to get any kind of response. That said, I don't believe the criticism of Johnson is unfair. With 200 @30 he is obviously talented. The problem is that because of his inconsistency he can win a match by himself when on song but leaves the team a bowler short when he is not. If he had the ability (undetermined at present) to bat at No. 6 then he would be an automatic selection. At number 8 he is not given that there are more consistent bowlers around. I think that given his slinging action he will always have a tendency to drop his arm and hence bowl all over the place at times. I think that RandyOz's criticism is justified and the selectors have a problem to sort out.

Posted by jonesy2 on (January 3, 2013, 16:32 GMT)

bottome line i would say it was mighty good of the worlds best side to bowl out a very good test batting line up, albeit missing sangakkara, for under 300 on an absolute batters paradise. wouldnt have expected anything less from the boys though but it was still a very good result for day 1. bird the new mcgrath 2.0 but quicker. tremendous to see lyon ripping and bouncing it on a first day pitch like that.

Posted by perl57 on (January 3, 2013, 15:53 GMT)

No point in beating Asian teams on seaming pitches. Let us see your ability against England who seem to be developing slowly.

Posted by Moz. on (January 3, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

@ Front-Foot-Lunge - "The Christmas Minnow Big Bash continues in riveting earnest. "

I see England did Ok against India in the "Mid-Table Mediocrity" series...

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 14:32 GMT)

@front foot lunge "clarkes lack of ability' first time ive ever seen that in print... lack of application perhaps but ability wow,comic relief indeed...

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

Bird truly looks the goods as a test bowler. Consistency, subtle movement both ways and an ability to contain. He's a perfect foil for the likes of Johnson and/or Starc and this is indicated by the success both those bowlers have had bowling in tandem with him.

To those saying Bird is a surprise... do you take any notice of first-class level? He's long-dominated there.

Posted by SKC412 on (January 3, 2013, 14:21 GMT)

" But they should be remembered by Australia's leaders, for the rest of the year will provide precious few opportunities for similar breathing room, given the steep rise in the quality of the opposition and the difficulty of the conditions to be faced in India and England."!!!!!!!!!!! My God, there cant be a better praise for the Indians right now than this, comparing them to England !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Mitcher on (January 3, 2013, 14:20 GMT)

England 1 - 1 Sri Lanka. The Sr Lankans can't be THAT bad. Or are England just not that good?

Posted by Chris_P on (January 3, 2013, 13:28 GMT)

@Front-Foot-Lunge. Still providing the comic relief I see.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (January 3, 2013, 13:00 GMT)

What a mistake of historic proportions Clarke made today. This just goes to show his ability, or precisely the profound lack of it, to do one of the firs t things all captains should be able to do - to read the pitch and conditions. All of Australia's bowlers bowled what can only be described as utter filth today, the Sri Lankan batsmen, currently one of the worst in world cricket, were more interested in getting back to the pavillion to show the board how annoyed they are with it, than sticking around. The Christmas Minnow Big Bash continues in riveting earnest.

Posted by sawifan on (January 3, 2013, 12:40 GMT)

@pat_one_back... while u make many valid points, however u shoot urself in the foot a bit for validity when u mentioned Henriques. He has just not done anything of note EVER!. His selection would purely be based on 'potential' alone, and hopefully we have learnt our lessons of late about that. And as for David Hussey. A few years ago maybe, but he is on the wane, Khawaja must be in the starting XI next test.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 12:30 GMT)

Johnson is consistent - and by that I mean he consistently has one great test per series and spends the rest of the time leaking runs and amusing the opposition's supporters... Might as well say he's been selected for the Ashes based on comedic value. Barmy Army must already be working on a new song...

Posted by peeeeet on (January 3, 2013, 12:25 GMT)

Bird is a true test match bowler. He offers control, patience, movement and enough pace. If he doesn't get wickets, he still bowls economically. He is a must have in every match he is fit for in my opinion. Forget about red zones, at risk of injury etc etc. he simply must play. Erratic bowlers get found out at this level, as we have seen with players like Tait and Johnson. Hopefully, Bird stays fit and in form and stays around the squad. He looks the real deal.

Posted by pat_one_back on (January 3, 2013, 12:16 GMT)

The Aussie selectors are picking a PS3/Xbox/fantasy league lineup devoid of reality. How can you explain to a Smith or Maxwell why they are inevitably dropped when you can't even explain their selection in the first place, PONI's are not play things, well in fact they are it seems. Let's get back to picking the best 11 players to win a test match based on what players have proven they are capable of... David in for Mike, our best 3 seamers and for 6-10 an innings, a Watson/Henriques/Marsh at 6-7, Johnson's an erratic occasional freak with bat or ball in hand (refer Smith, Maxwell, aforementioned fantasy cricket), pick him if he's a best 3 seamer, that I doubt.

Posted by reddawn1975 on (January 3, 2013, 12:12 GMT)

Arm chair critics Johnson is an x factor player the guy can play.And yep he's human he had a bad series with the poms he freaking smashed the South Africans and he still has it over alot of good players out there.I am an AUSSIE it makes me sick to see how quick some of you guys shoot your own players down its sad,,,,and Hilfenhaus mate how many blokes apart from siddle can bowl so many overs and still keep going look how many over he bowled in the series in South Africa and the sad loss of the ashes hell he bowled his heart out for his team not the money.....................................

Posted by RandyOZ on (January 3, 2013, 11:42 GMT)

Well said Ian Walker, Johnson has not changed and wshould be be in the squad as soon as Patto is fit. Like Hilfenhaus, they are too unrealiable and their shield records prove it.

Posted by RoJayao on (January 3, 2013, 11:32 GMT)

It's pretty clear that Starc and Johnson don't belong in the same team so as much as the good Johnson would be handy, surely taking him to England is just too big a gamble. Yeah look gotta agree Dan, the thinking, selection and execution so far in this match is not of a premium standard.

Posted by Chris_P on (January 3, 2013, 11:30 GMT)

@Ian Walker. I really wish I could disagree with you, but I can't. The fact we had 3 other quicks covered Johnson's efforts, disappointingly so. The Maxwell thought process was more than left field, it was way out there! Not a frontline spinner, not anywhere near a top 6 batting spot, what was the point? I really thought the Hastings experiement was going to repeat. Bird is the surprise here, and a pleasant one!

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 11:03 GMT)

Well Said Daniel. The idea they were going to go in with Johnson and Starc and not Bird on the back of one good performance by Johnson and a 'promise' to Starc along with a new half baked off spinning all rounder was the most inane and bizarre selection choice I've heard recently (actually maybe not thinking back to the 3rd SA test). Thank god the green top forced their hand into selecting Bird. I fear our new selectors have just as much idea as our last. Everybody can see it but them. Our potency at the MCG was brought about by Bird and Johnson's variation, then they wanted to do away with that just because Johnson got some runs and a few more wickets, many which were helped by Bird's accuracy. Let's get some sense back.

Posted by mqry on (January 3, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

@patchmaster: Must be Ian healy & his bravado

Posted by Patchmaster on (January 3, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

In the first test, one of the TV commentators said that 'no batsman has ever really taken Johnson apart'. Clearly he never watched the ashes series a few years ago, where EVERY English batsman took him apart - so much so he was dropped from the side.

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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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