Australia v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2015, Group A, Sydney March 6, 2015

Australia wrong-footed by dry pitch


Shane Watson could be back after being dropped in the last Australia game © Getty Images

Australia's selectors appear to have been wrong-footed by a bone dry SCG surface for their pivotal meeting with Sri Lanka, forcing them to consider the recall of Shane Watson - only one match after he was dropped - and the inclusion of the left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty for his first game of the World Cup.

The captain Michael Clarke was told by the coach Darren Lehmann and his fellow selector Mark Waugh that the panel was reserving judgment on the composition of their XI, opening up the possibility of including Watson for his bowling expertise on slower surfaces and Doherty as the squad's only slow bowling option. The spin bowling coach John Davison was working prominently with Doherty on match eve.

Late-season Sydney surfaces have a tendency to tire, and the strip being prepared for Sunday has the look of one that will spin and also get slower as the night goes on, even if the ground staff were seen sprinkling grass clippings onto the surface and rolling them in during mid-afternoon.

"Looking at the wicket today [and] if we had to play today, the toss would be crucial," Clarke said. "But a day of sun on the pitch, and a bit of rolling tomorrow, might be a little bit different. Generally under lights at the SCG the ball can skid on a bit more, outfield looks magnificent so think it's going to be a fast outfield, it's just how much the wicket slows up and that'll be dictated by how hard the pitch is tomorrow, I think.

"If we turn up tomorrow and the wicket is rock hard, I think it'll be a really consistent pitch for both teams. If it's still a bit tacky like it's today then I'd really want to bat first if I was playing today. It looks like spin is going to play a part. Looks quite dry and certainly hasn't got as much grass on it as I've seen in past one-day matches at the SCG."

Australia's apparent unhappiness about the surface illustrates how pitch preparation in the country does not run according to the whims of the home side. Contrast this with the last time Australia met Sri Lanka in a World Cup, in Colombo during the 2011 tournament, when a strip described as "rolled mud" by the visitors seemed tailored to Sri Lanka, though a washout prevented them from taking full advantage.

Should Watson play, it would be a major change from the strategy that appeared to have been established when he was left out against Afghanistan. While the omission of Watson was criticised by his former captain and friend Ricky Ponting, it suggested that a top order of Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steven Smith and Clarke would be the norm for the rest of the tournament.

However, it is now plausible that Watson will be included for Mitchell Marsh, who complained of foot soreness in Perth and is not known for his ability to extract wickets on slow pitches - something that was apparent during his brief spell against New Zealand at Eden Park when he was used and Watson was not.

Irrespective of the team he is given, it will be Clarke's responsibility to name the batting order, and he suggested Watson would not have to bat at No. 3 if included, following Smith's successful return to the position at the WACA Ground where his composure helped allow Warner and Glenn Maxwell to spread their wings.

"I think he [Watson] can bat anywhere," Clarke said. "I think he's shown at the top of the order he's been extremely successful. He averages over 40 in one-day cricket and he's striking at about 90 so I think he's skillful enough to bat anywhere in the order, but I think he's shown he loves batting up the top in all forms of the game."

As for Clarke, an extra session of throw-downs with the batting coach Michael Di Venuto underlined how much he was striving for some semblance of batting touch ahead of a match that will dictate who finishes second in group A and wins a more favourable draw. Defeat for Australia may mean an away semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland rather than a home date in Sydney, something Clarke will be eager to avoid.

"I feel I'm fitter and healthier than I've been in a long, long time," he said. "I have that hunger to be successful and help Australia go as far as we possibly can in this World Cup. I've copped a fair bit of criticism over the last few months, so I'm excited about what lies ahead. I feel I'm at my best and ready to have this team have success."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 8, 2015, 12:05 GMT

    As long as Clarke can get his back-to-back trouble of his back, and escape from his hammy (left-right-left ...which one?) harming him, he is the right man @ 4 , and to lead the team. No doubt about it.

  • Dummy4 on March 8, 2015, 8:20 GMT

    I am rooting for SL here. Dilshan and Sanga on fire. Hope they continue this. Let the average SA team play this Average Aussie team in the QF. :)

  • ultra on March 8, 2015, 3:52 GMT

    Ridiculous headline, lol where's the fight aussies? Lankans go get em tigers!!! Goodluck from an India supporter.

  • parjanya on March 8, 2015, 3:00 GMT

    If the Aussies mess this up, it would set the cat among the pigeons and liven up this tourney especially after yesterday's 'upset' win by Pakistan. An Australia-SA q/f instead of the final would be such a let down for the fans on both sides. The other teams would be amused, though.

  • ESPN on March 7, 2015, 15:16 GMT

    At current state of things it's seems better for Australia to face the Proteas in the quarters, the spinning SCG pitch will probably bring out the weakness in the Aussie batting against spin and the lack of a quality spinner in their side, which has been a Abe for them since the days of Warne and Hogg

  • Rajiv on March 7, 2015, 14:25 GMT

    Come on SL. Beat them in their den and make it 3 in 3 for subcontinental sides. So proud of Pakistan - Indian fan

  • Muhammad on March 7, 2015, 13:19 GMT

    If Australia lose tomorrow, they will face South Africa in Adelaide. Pakistan might face Sri Lanka in Sydney. These 2 would be interesting games.

  • Chatty on March 7, 2015, 12:16 GMT

    So, Australia does not prepare grounds to fit their team, ha? I guess that is why this is the first time in the tournament they are thinking of playing a spinner! Let's face it, up to now, all the pitches have been in Australia's favour. This seems to be an exception, although they seem to be trying their best to make it fast bowler friendly by rolling grass in. I am sure such instructions did not come from the SL team! SL too has plenty of wickets with pace and carry. Look at Hambantota and Kandy. They are probably the most fast bowler friendly in whole of South Asia. SL does not ask the curators to roll mud into those. So, why roll grass in to this pitch?

  • Izmi on March 7, 2015, 10:37 GMT

    The dry pitch no doubt will help the Sri Lanka spinners than Australia's pace attack. As a result the selection of Doherty will play into the hands of the Sri Lanka batsmen who will relish his bowling. Being the host nation with a fast bowling attack I wonder what the curator was thinking? Like in the sub continent the aussies don't doctor wickets to suit the home team which has helped Sri Lanka register the majority of their 8 ODI victories in Australia at the SCG. In the last world cup in Sri Lanka the home team prepared a strip of "rolled mud" for the match against the aussies. Since the recent debacle in India and Pakistan I don't think the aussies have learnt anything much how to bowl or bat on spinning wickets.

  • sam on March 7, 2015, 9:44 GMT

    Turning pitch means Australia in a lot of trouble. Dilshan will bowl his 10 (and he is a lot better bowler than Maxwell) and Senanayake will also play. Prasanna might play and he is a better bowler than Mendis.

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