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August 15, 2011
The series is less than a week old, but it will be decided by Tuesday night if Australia continue their winning form after comfortably taking the first two matches. The eight-wicket victory in Hambantota on Sunday was almost a carbon copy of the opening win in Pallekele: Sri Lanka won the toss and batted poorly, failing to see out their overs, and then couldn't build any pressure on Australia in the chase. They must find their batting mojo if they are to keep the series alive heading in to the Colombo, where the final two matches will be played.
Sri Lanka's problem has been finding the right tempo. In the opening game, they went too hard and in the second match they were too cautious. Perhaps it will be third time lucky. Kumar Sangakkara looked solid in making a half-century on Sunday but he needs support from the three other key members of the top order: the openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga, and the No. 4 Mahela Jayawardene. Maybe when Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga and company have a decent target to defend they can impart some pressure on Australia's batsmen.
For the visitors, all has gone swimmingly, apart from Brad Haddin's struggle for form at the top of the order. Wickets have come from Doug Bollinger, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee, and the spinners have done their job of keeping things tight. Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke have all been in the runs, and overall the side has been much more switched on than Sri Lanka. The question is, how will they fare if Sri Lanka find their spark?
Form guide(Most recent first)
In the spotlight
A couple of former captains, Ricky Ponting and Kumar Sangakkara, have already posted half-centuries in this series, but Sri Lanka need some runs from another ex-skipper. Mahela Jayawardene hasn't looked at his best in the first two games, flashing at a wide ball from Mitchell Johnson and edging behind in the first, and top-edged a sweep in the second. But he is a class act, and it was only a few months ago that he scored a century in a World Cup final. A strong innings from Jayawardene would go a long way to getting Sri Lanka back into the series.
Everything has gone right for Michael Clarke so far in this series. In fact, ever since he took over the captaincy full time. He's led Australia to five wins from five games and his leadership in the field has been confident and well thought-out. The initial signs are positive for the post-Ponting era. Most importantly, he has been scoring runs and now has a pair of half-centuries in Sri Lanka to add to his 101 in Bangladesh in his first match in charge. As a steady presence in the middle order, he'll be an important player throughout the rest of the tour.
Angelo Mathews is in doubt for the fixture, reportedly due to the return of the quad trouble that has affected him since the World Cup. Suraj Randiv made way for Rangana Herath in the second match, but Herath had no impact with the ball and could be back on the sidelines for the third game. The batting is Sri Lanka's major concern, so they need to decide whether to stick with the existing line-up or bring in Chamara Silva, perhaps at the expense of Dinesh Chandimal or Jeevan Mendis.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal / Chamara Silva, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Lasith Malinga.
Australia's line-up has worked well in the first two matches, and there is no reason to make any changes while the series remains alive. Steven Smith hasn't batted and has barely been required to bowl, but the Australians like his versatility and the energy he brings in the field, so he is expected retain his position.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Brad Haddin (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Michael Hussey, 6 David Hussey, 7 Steven Smith, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Xavier Doherty, 11 Doug Bollinger.
Pitch and conditions
The Hambantota pitch was slow and low, and didn't have much grass on it, and was described by Clarke as a good wicket for batting. The players will be hoping the wind has died down by Tuesday, after Sunday's match was played in extremely breezy conditions.
Stats and trivia
"We have to work on the batting ... work hard, come back strong."
Tillakaratne Dilshan knows exactly where Sri Lanka's problem lies.
"There's still a long way to go but these first two games have been very impressive both with the ball and with the bat."
Michael Clarke has been pleased with how Australia have started the series.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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