Sri Lanka v Australia, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day September 2, 2011

Australia's heart-starter

This Australian side is an enormous distance from being a great team, or even a very good one, but it has shown willingness to work hard and scrap heartily for success

Don Argus' review cut to the heart of Australian cricket. Two weeks later in Sri Lanka, its effect feels akin to that of a defibrillator: the heart is now beating more strongly than it has for quite some time.

On a strip of dirt that used to be a cricket pitch, Michael Clarke's Australia turned the weapon of the home side's conditions back on the opposition, reaching the cusp of a series lead with the most focused and professional team performance for quite some time. There has been no grumbling about subcontinent subterfuge, only a fierce and sustained push for the result.

In searching for a better Australian display, the mind is cast back to the fourth Ashes Test at Headingley in 2009, or to the series victory in South Africa that preceded it. Complete Australian Test victories against noteworthy opposition really have been that few and far between in recent years. To illustrate the point, it is shaping as Australia's first Test win in the subcontinent since a 2-0 series defeat of Bangladesh in 2006.

Any doubt about the direction of the match had been removed on the second evening by Clarke, who played an innings as resonant as any he has managed since the 151 on his Test debut in Bangalore seven years ago. Using the width of the crease against the spiteful turn, Clarke made the second highest score of the match, and in doing so contributed the sort of innings his predecessors would have looked on fondly.

A great captain's innings does not have to be a century, and Clarke's was redolent of the fighting 56 by Ian Chappell in Bob Massie's match at Lord's in 1972, or Allan Border's statement-of-intent 66 at Headingley in 1989. On each occasion the innings was as significant for its tone as its tally, helping a developing team grow surer after the captain's example. Border and Chappell had pace and seam to contend with, but Clarke made his name against spin and strongly enhanced it here.

Thus fortified, the Australian tail dragged the innings out on the third morning. Usman Khawaja has passed 20 in each of his four innings for Australia, and did so again in the company of Ryan Harris. His technique fully tested by the pitch and the bowling, Khawaja again showed plenty of determination, and evidence that he had taken lessons from his first innings trials. Harris, Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon then drove the Sri Lankans to a state of some distraction, as 98 runs were added for the final four wickets. Much as a team's discipline, commitment and unity can be read from its displays in the field, so too can strong morale be interpreted from the tail's willingness to stick around. In Sri Lanka's first innings, the final seven wickets fell for 18 runs.

The home side's troubles are varied, stemming from convoluted board politics and a selection panel that seems at odds with the wishes of the team. Tillakaratne Dilshan's captaincy has left something to be desired from the moment he lost the toss, so handing the best of heavily slanted conditions to his opponents. The Australians were able to eke out more runs than the surface merited in each innings, helped in part by the fact that Dilshan is still developing his skills in manoeuvring the bowlers and the field. It is not always easy, and Dilshan is less of a natural than his counterpart. As a batsman, he was defeated by his own impetuosity in the first innings, then looked out of sorts and out of ideas in the second.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, meanwhile, defended their wickets grimly in the second innings but seemed preoccupied by suspicion that Copeland was running on the pitch. Jayawardene in particular was animated in his complaints. The sight of the home side's most senior players squabbling with the umpires and the opposition over the protection of a surface that should have suited them illustrated the difference between Sri Lanka's approach and Australia's. The unsteady hosts have an almighty task ahead to avoid surrendering the No. 4 spot in the ICC rankings.

This Australian side is an enormous distance from being a great team, or even a very good one, but it has shown willingness to work hard and scrap heartily for success in drastically unfamiliar climes. Clarke's first victory as captain will be celebrated by the team but Argus and his review panel will have equal reason to rejoice. A system they found moribund has received its long overdue shake, and now the way ahead is clear.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on September 5, 2011, 4:05 GMT

    Good win - but a series still needs to be won! Good signs though.

  • Leonard on September 3, 2011, 20:32 GMT

    Two no more than average teams both now largely minus their traditional match winners.

  • nalin on September 3, 2011, 16:44 GMT

    I agree that Australia scrapped hard and SL played dumb cricket until Mathews and Jayawardene showed what could have been had they played with a mixture of respect to the opponents and pitch and a positive approach to capitalising when the opportunity arose. T20 mentality followed by panic does not work. Need good tight positive cricket that SL can do.England is the only quality side and India is back in the pack and Australia can scrap hard as anyone of the mediocore lot whose skills are diluted by T20.

  • Luke on September 3, 2011, 10:05 GMT

    Ok so we just won this match by quite a large margin but I don't think it has anything to with the Argus report; more to do with the fact that Sri Lanka just aren't that good a side at the moment. Their pace bowlers are awful and the batting doesn't run very deep at all. I'm also extremely wary of Lyon's success - the conditions of the pitch definitely helped him so we'll just wait until he bowls on something that doesn't suit him. Australia have a long way to go before hitting the top three - it's a fierce summer for us and to be honest I'm not expecting much at all. Our bowling is still incredibly flaky and undisciplined (witness Johnson's usual sprays which he STILL can't control) and the batting no better than it was during the Ashes. I can only hope the newcomers are given some time to settle in and improve, Hughes included.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    hi congrats to Australia

  • Rana on September 3, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    Congrats Aussies, you deserve the thumping win. SL thinks the same formula that has worked the last decade or so would work again, not realizing there is no more Murali and Vaas to carry them. Want to see a team in steep decline, look no further than SL. Nowhere but to go down as one by one the dominos fall. Sangakkara is next. ...Angelo Mathews chokes again...SL was more preoccupied with Copeland running onto the pitch, I guess a bowler is not allowed to have a follow through, mind you, the umpires had no issues of any kind. So much for SL being a sporting side. LOL.

  • Brenton on September 3, 2011, 8:05 GMT

    It does seem the Aussies are showing fight. I agree the Argus review report has removed a distraction from the minds of the players. There may be some normalcy in selections again. We need to keep developing, Ponting, Hussey, Haddin will all be gone within a couple of years. Come on Aussie, come on, come on.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 7:49 GMT

    Wow, the articles in general on this tour so far have been so biased towards Austrailia its amazing. An offspinner gets 5 wickets in the first innings of a test on a turning pitch and people are harping that he is the best spinner since Warne. Aus is in a commanding position but the match is not over yet. SL are a team that fights and if we do lose this match we will bounce back hard in the 2nd test and then if we lose, it could be truly said that Aus are on their way to becoming a top side. Like in the case of Nathan Lyon I would say that both Australia and Lyon can only be judged after a consistant performance over a period of time and not just a 1 off against a team that has "varied" problems.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 5:29 GMT

    @sifter132 agree wid u. Its looks a bit out of place. Sl still hav 5 wickets in hand. Also there is strong possibility of rain washing out at least a session or two if not more

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 4:38 GMT

    I'll reserve judgement until the result of this match is finalised. It has been a good effort by the Australians so far - but they'll still want to get Jaywardene quickly.

  • No featured comments at the moment.