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February 23, 2012
February 24, Hobart
Start time 1420 (0320 GMT)
As Australia deal with the ramifications of Ricky Ponting's removal from the ODI team, Sri Lanka have established a strong run of performance to leap from the basement to the penthouse of the triangular series standings. Both sides have enjoyed comfortable victories over a faltering India, and now meet in Hobart to provide an indicator of which team is tracking most strongly as the series edges towards the best-of-three finals.
Australia's dressing room will be very different without Ponting, and the difference will be magnified by the return of Shane Watson as vice-captain. It is not yet clear whether Watson will make his return to the playing XI in Hobart, but his presence among the team is significant regardless. Watson and Michael Clarke were the anointed leadership duo to replace Ponting in 2011, and must now renew their relationship. On the field, the hosts showed a renewed level of energy and focus in Brisbane on Sunday, and will need to redouble that effort against Sri Lanka. Ryan Harris' return offers more energy to the bowling attack, while Brett Lee will again be better as he continues to recover from a broken foot.
Sri Lanka's regeneration has followed a sturdy upward curve across the series. Close to gaining results in the first three matches, Mahela Jayawardene's men have added confidence to the discipline by winning the next two. Farveez Maharoof and Lahiru Thirimanne have provided plenty of vim to the team, while Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews have also demonstrated the skills that can offer the team a bright future in coming years. Consistency remains the challenge ahead for a team that has not made a habit of winning too many matches on end in recent times.
Australia WLLWW (Most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWTLL
In the spotlight
Michael Clarke has spent time recovering from a hamstring strain but also discussing the future of his team with the selection panel he is a member of. Several members of the side have hinted at disappointment about Ponting's omission from the team, though they accept the primary measure of performance. There will be much to draw from how Clarke gathers the team together in the wake of Ponting's exit.
Kumar Sangakkara has been an inconspicuous member of the Sri Lankan side this series, striking the ball well but registering scores of 26, 22, 31, 30 and 8. Hobart was the scene of one of Sangakkara's finest Test innings, a sparkling 192 against Australia in 2007, and he will be hoping those good memories will draw a more sustained batting display from his hands and feet on Friday.
Watson's return is the major question for Australia's selectors, after John Inverarity raised the possibility of the allrounder merely training with the team in Hobart then playing on Sunday against India in Sydney. If he is recalled it may be at the expense of Daniel Christian, and also push Matthew Wade down the order. Clarke is likely to take Ponting's former No. 3 spot, while Harris is also set to resume.
Clarke began his training with the physio Alex Kountouris before the rest of the group arrived at Bellerive Oval on Thursday and he said he was feeling good. However, he said the selectors would wait until after training to make a call on whether to bring Watson in for this game.
Australia (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Matthew Wade (wk), 3 Michael Clarke (capt), 4 Peter Forrest, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 David Hussey, 7 Daniel Christian/Shane Watson, 8 Ryan Harris, 9 Clint McKay, 10 Xavier Doherty, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
Sri Lanka are likely to stick with the combination that earned them wins in Sydney and Brisbane, with Lahiru Thirmanne and Farveez Maharoof adding plenty of energy and performance to the XI.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Rangana Herath.
Pitch and conditions
Hobart's surface often provides assistance to the fast bowlers, and the local spin bowler Xavier Doherty has observed the pitch looks likely to offer some pace and bounce on Friday. Fine, sunny weather is forecast.
Stats and trivia
"Absolutely everyone is on notice. If Ricky Ponting can be dropped after such a magnificent one-day career then the simple message is perform or perish. After the events of the past week that message could not be any clearer."
Michael Clarke on the lessons of Ponting's exit.
"After the last couple of games we came back strongly into the tournament so the challenge is to try and be consistent, play the way we've been playing, and make sure we handle certain situations better than the opposition."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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