Top order struggles haunt Sri Lankans
Sri Lankans 9 for 210 dec & 4 for 62 trail Queensland 295 (Bichel 125, Johnson 50) by 23 runs
The Sri Lankans' Test preparations suffered another severe wobble when their top order collapsed for the second time in the tour match against Queensland. After folding to 5 for 45 in the first innings, the visitors were in more trouble at 4 for 55 as they tried to overhaul the 85-run deficit created by Andy Bichel's muscular century.
Ashley Noffke continued his fine match when he raced through the openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu before Michael Vandort and Thilan Samaraweera added to the tourists' pain. They finished the day at 4 for 62, still 23 runs behind, and will rely on Mahela Jayawardene (22) and Chamara Silva (2) to ease the headaches of a side already missing Kumar Sangakkara with injury.
Jayasuriya began the tour with a century on a flat surface in Adelaide, but he has struggled with the pitch's pop at Allan Border Field and managed only three runs for the game. Noffke, who captured five victims on Friday, forced him to fend a lifting ball to Clinton Perren and he departed to similar dismissals on both occasions.
The exit of Atapattu, who was lbw to Noffke for 7, was less of a concern as he has performed strongly in both games, but Michael Vandort missed an opportunity for a meaningful contribution when he went for 26 to an excellent legside take from Chris Hartley. At least the Sri Lankans have an idea of what they will face at the Gabba from Thursday after dueling with a high-quality attack.
Shaun Tait's elbow injury means Mitchell Johnson is a virtual certainty for the first Test even though he has struggled for wickets in this match. He took one on Friday and was again out-bowled by Noffke, who had 2 for 8 off six overs in his opening spell. Bichel chipped in late to dispose of Samaraweera and complete a satisfying day of personal achievement.
Bichel smashed seven sixes, the most in a first-class innings for Queensland, and 11 fours as he led the Bulls from the early-morning trouble of 4 for 60 to relative comfort. Entering at No. 6 in a bowler-heavy line-up, Bichel started the day cautiously but expanded his repertoire as he got comfortable and reached three figures shortly before tea.
"I was a bit lucky today, I got away with a few things, but it worked for me," Bichel said. "I'm feeling quite comfortable with the bat in my hand and I hope that continues."
The rescue mission of 125 from 168 deliveries ended when he top edged a sweep off Malinga Bandara, who suffered the most bruises from Bichel. Taking advantage of a dropped chance at mid-off on 18 and a run-out escape, Bichel hit freely and rushed to 99 with two sixes in a Bandara over before flicking a single to midwicket for his century.
A couple of mistakes in the field did not help the bowlers, who were unable to shut down a pesky lower order despite regular movement off the pitch. Farveez Maharoof was the most successful with 3 for 72 while Bandara picked up 2 for 89 and Jayasuriya claimed the final two wickets as Queensland were dismissed for 285. Maharoof was unlucky, forcing numerous plays and misses, and eventually gained a reward when he had Hartley caught behind for 8 after Noffke had fallen for 34.
Bichel and Noffke, who lost a ball with a six over mid-on, combined for an 80-run stand before Johnson and Bichel added 94 in quick time to pass the Sri Lankans' first-innings total of 210. Johnson may have struggled for impact with the ball over the opening two days but he contributed a lively half-century to complement the work of Bichel.
Maharoof, who was pleased with his return, said there was a lot of work to do on the final day. "Whoever gets in just has to bat on," he said. "You can't do that much on this wicket, the only thing you can concentrate on is playing down the line and occupying the crease. The first day the pitch was a bit spongy, but it's dried out a bit and it's taking off from a length."
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo