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September 1, 2011
Australia 273 and 115 for 6 (Clarke 60, Herath 3-51) lead Sri Lanka 105 (Paranavitana 29, Lyon 5-34, Watson 3-11) by 283 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Report : Australia five wickets from victory
Report : Hussey resists on tough day for Australia's batsmen
Matches: Sri Lanka v Australia at Galle
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of Sri Lanka
After eight months of soul-searching, Australian cricket finally has something to be excited about. A few things, in fact: Nathan Lyon's five-wicket haul on debut, including a wicket with his first delivery in Test cricket; the performance of the other debutant, Trent Copeland, who struck with his second ball at international level; and the return to form of the new captain Michael Clarke, whose confident half-century capped off a strong day for his side.
And the most encouraging thing for Australia's fans is that they were in a powerful position to push for victory against Sri Lanka in Galle. Australia closed the second day at 115 for 6, hardly the sort of score most sides would crow about that early in a Test, but on a day when 16 wickets tumbled on a pitch so dusty it was almost a health hazard, Clarke's men were unequivocally on top against a lacklustre Sri Lanka.
Of course, plenty of work remains to be done, and their lead of 283 runs with four wickets in hand is no guarantee of victory against a side boasting batsmen like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But the longer the match wears on, the more impressive Australia's first innings of 273 appears, and the hosts will need the biggest total of the match to pinch victory.
After Lyon's spin and Shane Watson's reverse swing demolished Sri Lanka for 105, Australia's top order wobbled and Rangana Herath picked up some late wickets to keep Sri Lanka, at least theoretically, in the contest. When rain forced an early close, Australia were 115 for 6 with Usman Khawaja on 2 and Mitchell Johnson on 3, and they were happy to get off the field after Herath claimed three late wickets.
The most important dismissal was that of Clarke, who had shown his class against spin in compiling 60 from 80 balls. He was nimble on his feet and flicked Herath wristily through midwicket, a shot which VVS Laxman would have been proud of, and he cleared the boundary over mid-off with a wonderful lofted drive against Suraj Randiv.
Eventually, Clarke fell when he top-edged an attempted sweep off Herath, and Michael Hussey (15) departed next ball when he was adjudged caught at bat-pad on review. It was a tough call on Hussey, for while the replays suggested possible contact between glove and ball, the footage was not conclusive but the on-field umpire's not-out decision was overturned.
Herath made it three victims in two overs when Brad Haddin edged to slip for a duck, but Sri Lanka needed a pile of wickets after Australia recovered from 5 for 2 in the fourth over. Shane Watson had fallen off the first ball of the innings, when he slashed Chanaka Welegedara to gully, and soon afterwards Ricky Ponting departed in comical fashion when he miscued a pull off Suranga Lakmal.
Ponting lost his grip as he played the stroke and his bat flew out towards midwicket, and the fielder, Herath, did well to keep his eyes on the ball and completed the take. Phillip Hughes was positive in his 28, but was lbw to Tillakaratne Dilshan when he went for a sweep to a fullish delivery, and HawkEye didn't save him when he asked for a review of Richard Kettleborough's decision.
It was a frenetic final session after Sri Lanka lost all ten of their wickets before tea. Lyon, the offspinner who this time a year ago had not made his state debut and was looking forward to starting a job as an Adelaide Oval groundsman, collected 5 for 34 as Sri Lanka crashed out for their sixth-lowest total in Test history.
The last seven wickets fell in the space of 18 runs, a collapse triggered by an excellent spell of reverse-swing bowling from Watson, who took three wickets in two overs. But it was Lyon's efforts that brought the greatest cheers from the Australia dressing room, not surprisingly given Australia's struggles to find a Test-quality spinner in the post-Warne era.
His first ball in Test cricket was near perfect: it drifted in from around the wicket and turned sharply away from the left-hander, Kumar Sangakkara, whose edge was snapped up beautifully by a diving Clarke at first slip. Only Arthur Conington in the 1890s had taken a wicket with his first Test delivery, and he finished his career with two. Lyon had five by the end of the day.
He was helped by some below-par batting, but Lyon was still impressive in the bounce and spin he extracted, in an era when many Australian tweakers push the ball through too quickly. Angelo Mathews was bowled behind his legs when he missed an attempted sweep, Herath was caught in the deep off a slog sweep, and Randiv was sharply taken by Ponting at midwicket.
Lyon completed his five-for with a terrific return catch high to his right to remove Welegedara, and he led Australia off the field in the knowledge the Test spin position was now his to lose. While Lyon was the star, it was Watson's spell to the middle order that really rattled Sri Lanka.
Watson tailed the ball dangerously with reverse swing and had Thilan Samaraweera (26) and Prasanna Jayawardene both trapped lbw in one over. In his next he came around the wicket to Tharanga Paranavitana, Sri Lanka's top scorer with 29 off 115 deliveries, and swung the ball in for another clear lbw.
Paranavitana and Samaraweera had steadied the innings somewhat with a 43-run stand after Australia picked up three early wickets. Mahela Jayawardene (11) was run out when Paranavitana pushed to the off side and Copeland backhanded a return to Brad Haddin, a piece of fielding reminiscent of Mark Waugh at his best.
Both batsmen had been ball-watching, hesitating in the middle of the pitch, and replays confirmed Jayawardene was a few centimetres short when Haddin whipped off the bails. As if to highlight how off the pace Sri Lanka were, Paranavitana might have been run out had Jayawardene made his ground; while Australia appealed, he loitered in the middle of the pitch and a return to the bowler's end could have ended his stay.
It was the second celebration for Copeland. His first ball in Test cricket was driven through cover for four by Dilshan, but his second brought a breakthrough when Dilshan flashed irresponsibly and was brilliantly snapped up by Ponting at short cover. The dismissal summed up the day; Sri Lanka lacked application and Australia made the most of their chances.
Now Australia need to make the most of their strong position. A 1-0 series lead is theirs for the taking.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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