Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Kandy

Biting the bullet

Charlie Austin

March 15, 2004

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Hashan Tillakaratne wants his batsmen to be more positive against Shane Warne © Getty Images
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After the heat of seaside Galle, the cool of hill-country Kandy. Sri Lanka come to the island's most sacred city looking for a change in fortunes. Australia, though, have momentum on their side, and a pace attack that is pawing the ground in anticipation of a pitch that promises them greater life than the turgid surface at Galle.

Sri Lanka are under pressure. They have not lost a home series since March 2001, but to lose the first Test at a venue where they had traditionally been so strong - just one defeat in nine matches prior to Australia's 197-run win - was a terrible start. In Kandy, their record is mixed: four wins, four losses and seven draws.

Hashan Tillakaratne, though, says that Sri Lanka start afresh. "We were all disappointed by what happened in the first Test, but that is all history now. We have analysed where we went wrong and we have to tighten up our game a little. We can't relax this time because Australia have shown that they can do extraordinary things when you do."

Shane Warne provided the greatest threat with the ball during a fairytale return to international cricket, claiming 10 for 159, and Tillakaratne believes that his top order must be bolder in their approach. "We all know what a great bowler that he is," said Tillakaratne, "but we were a little negative against him I thought, especially on the third morning. We defended him too much and there were too many dot-balls."

Sri Lanka's bowling - Muttiah Muralitharan apart - was also a concern in the second innings. This time Tillakaratne, who says Sri Lanka are likely to play two quick bowlers, wants better support for Murali. "We didn't give the support he needed and there were not enough dot balls bowled." Nuwan Zoysa is expected to return for the first time since Sri Lanka's tour of England in 2002.

Sri Lanka are hopeful that both Thilan Samaraweera (groin injury) and Sanath Jayasuriya (hand injury) will pass late fitness tests on Tuesday morning. Both were rated as being 80% fit on Sunday, and Tillakaratne was confident that they would be available for selection.

There has also been some concern over Muralitharan himself. He is poised to join the elite 500-wicket club, but has struggling with a stomach upset. Again, Tillakaratne expects him to play. Nothing less than severe salmonella, it seems, will keep him out of a match in front of his home crowd.

Australia have fewer concerns. Michael Kasprowicz is fast approaching full fitness, and there are no other injury worries. Their biggest conundrum is the balance of their side. Although they won so convincingly at Galle, two changes are possible as they consider beefing up their fast-bowling attack.

Kandy's pitch traditionally offers fast bowlers greater assistance than Galle, especially with the new ball. This surface is perhaps a little drier than the norm, despite wet weather during recent days, but there is sufficient grass on the surface for Australia to consider calling up Brad Williams in place of Stuart MacGill.

That would be a very tough decision, with MacGill having taken four wickets in the second innings at Galle, but Ricky Ponting insists that when conditions warrant changes, you "just have to bite the bullet". But Australia are still not 100% sure about their strategy, because spin will play a more significant role in the second innings.

"Its hard to say what we are going to do at the moment because we are unsure about the conditions," Ponting told reporters at the team hotel. "We did not really know what to make of the wicket yesterday. There might be some more grass than expected. If that is the case, we will have to have a look at the make-up of the side."

If Williams is drafted into the XI then that might also prompt changes to the batting line-up. Andrew Symonds was primarily selected ahead of Simon Katich in the first Test because he offered the back-up option of some medium-pace. "If you look back at why we made the tough call on Simon [Katich] in the last game, it was because we thought we might need another medium-pace option," revealed Ponting. "If we decide to go with three quicks here, then Katich might get a chance back in the side."

Whatever way Australia go, Ponting is confident that his team can wrap up the series. "We adjusted really well to conditions in Galle and it would be nice to be able to win here. We certainly all feel in pretty good touch and are feeling confident."

Australia, though, have unhappy memories of this venue. In 1999 they lost by six wickets. Worse, there was a horrific fielding collision between Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie, who broke his leg and had to be airlifted to Colombo in an army helicopter.

But Kandy's reputation for producing the bizarre is not reserved for touring sides. Sri Lanka lost three nailbiting and controversial Tests between 2000 and 2001, and last year, Marvan Atapattu suffered severe concussion after a collision with Daniel Vettori.

The preparation of both teams has been hampered by poor weather. Both sides were unable to practise on Monday, and Sri Lanka's afternoon net session was cut short by rain. The weather forecast for tomorrow also suggests the possibility of showers.

Sri Lanka (from): 1 Marvan Atapattu, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Hashan Tillakaratne (capt), 6 Tillakartne Dilshan, 7 Thilan Samaraweera, 8 Upul Chandana, 9 Chaminda Vaas, 10 Nuwan Zoysa, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan, 12 Avishka Gunawardene, 13 Nuwan Kulasekara, 14 Rangana Herath, 15 Kaushal Lokuarachchi.

Australia (from): 1 Justin Langer, 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Darren Lehmann, 6 Simon Katich, 7 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 8 Shane Warne, 9 Michael Kasprowizc, 10 Jason Gillespie, 11 Brad Williams, 12 Stuart MacGill, 13 Shaun Tait, 14 Wade Seccombe (wk), 15 Andrew Symonds.

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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