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
27

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

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

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

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

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

  • NALINWIJ 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.

  • Buggsy 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.

  • on September 3, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    hi congrats to Australia

  • DocBindra 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.

  • Barnesy4444 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

  • NALINWIJ 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.

  • Buggsy 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.

  • on September 3, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    hi congrats to Australia

  • DocBindra 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.

  • Barnesy4444 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • KingofRedLions on September 3, 2011, 3:56 GMT

    I don't think we've ever been as far from being back to near the top as what people have said. Certainly, the Argus report has little to do with this sudden turn around. Clarke has more to do with it.

  • andrew-schulz on September 3, 2011, 3:21 GMT

    This performance has nothing to do with the Argus report. And what about the performance in Perth against England? Your article is full of holes.

  • on September 3, 2011, 3:09 GMT

    I was not a big Clarke fan but he seems to be doing good...though as bat he is not in the same class as taylor waugh ponting...

  • RJHB on September 3, 2011, 3:02 GMT

    NO ONE is saying Australia is back as a superforce in world cricket, except a few one eyed nutters! We accept that England, South Africa and India are well ahead. I'm equally sure they're not light years from even being a 'very good team' however. They do need everyone fit and in form to be competitive and if they're not the team can be badly beaten. But frankly India, as the former number one team, just discovered what a couple of key injuries and out of form players can do to team competitiveness and the final result! The only team in world cricket with any real depth is England and they're the deserved new world champion. For now, Australia are going ok and a win is a win is a win, well actually a win overseas is worth two or three at home. Well done boys.

  • Rakesh_Sharma on September 3, 2011, 2:59 GMT

    The best thing Aussies must do is se that the Test series against India is swept 4-0. If Johnson fires the way he did against SA in SA and Harris ,Siddle and Bollinger keep control there will be no stopping. Another thing ,Perth pitch must be at its bounciest best and not the way it was during the last test against India. Al in all pitches must be very fast and bouncy so that Indian team with Tendulkar,Dravid are bounced out.

  • Cardmuppet on September 3, 2011, 2:12 GMT

    @dsig3: The article doesn't say we're back. You have to keep reading.... "This Australian side is an enormous distance from being a great team, or even a very good one,"

    It is common knowledge the Sri Lankan side is never fully chosen on form and merrit. It would be interesting to see an Argus style review in Sri Lanka.

    Good to see the boys notch a win, can't wait to see Punter pile on the runs now the weight of captaincy is gone. Should be a competitive home summer, will be nice change from the last!

  • popcorn on September 3, 2011, 0:40 GMT

    This is an excellent article,worthy of being pasting in the dressing rooms of the Australian Team, wherever they travel. Soul - stirring.Michael Clarke is a natural.And his Team has backed him up.References to the fighting knocks of Ian Chappell and Allan Border will resonate throughout Australia's cricket lovers and fans of Australia throughout the world.Go,Aussies,go!

  • binojpeter on September 3, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    I am an Indian but I have to say that I was bit disappointed in not seeing Ajantha Mendis in the SL side. I still believe that he is a force in Tests in subcontinent. He would have made a good pair with Herath. I have not yet able to see Prasanna bowl, so I cannot commend about him. I think Randiv is just below the level of Mendis and maybe Prasanna.

  • dsig3 on September 2, 2011, 23:33 GMT

    We are not back. We are a very, very long way away from the top sides. 1 win does not suddenly mean we are going to shift into dominating mode again. Its not going to happen as Daniel has pointed out. The important thing is we are playing well. The toss has assisted us along with an opposition which has been well off the boil. These are good signs but this series is going to continue after Galle. Lets keep a bit of perspective.

  • smudgeon on September 2, 2011, 22:51 GMT

    It was just a bizarre decision by the SL selectors to leave Mendis out, particularly given the pitch prepared in Galle. If anyone was really going to run-through the Australian line-up on a dust-bowl like this, it was him. Missed opportunity. Definitely a ways to go for Australia, but the fact they are picking young players like Hughes, Khawaja, Copeland & Lyon shows they have a real eye on developing a team that will be difficult to beat in 5 years' time. Let's just hope the new selection panel persist with them.

  • sifter132 on September 2, 2011, 22:08 GMT

    I like the sentiment, but I was a bit scared to read this..."it was Australia's first Test win in the subcontinent since a 2-0 series defeat of Bangladesh in 2006." SL still has 2 pretty good batsmen at the crease - let's not count the chickens yet...

  • on September 2, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    OZ back 2 it`s best....

    C`mon rule d INTL CRICKET again fr a decade....

  • on September 2, 2011, 15:22 GMT

    Australia are one team that never give up.Highly combative and bring something to Cricket.They are one team that could challenge the Great West Indies sides from 1950 to 1995.If Australia cull the BBL monster and get their players to skip IPL they will take a huge step forward.Plus skipping the IPL would help India too as Australian Players are major crowd pullers among the Internationals.This could dilute the IPL monster.

  • Ellis on September 2, 2011, 14:43 GMT

    The writing was on the wall for SL after the Australian first innings. To expect any side to get the highest score of the match in the fourth innings on a wicket like the one at Galle, defies credibility. The officials who strategise for the SL team are far more responsible for the debacle than the players themselves.There cannot have been too many worse wickets prepared for a Test, than this one. This is an issue of being too smart for one's own good. Jayawardene, Hussey, Clarke aside, no other batsman has come to terms with this deplorable pitch. Dilshan's approach to batting in this game has been totally irresponsible. All these comments about a sporting pitch are nonsense.Let's call a spade a spade. It is not a pitch worthy of a Test.

  • on September 2, 2011, 14:43 GMT

    now its time to deliver by the youngster. i'really impressed the way khawaja bats in this match and prety much confident that he'll also scores in three figure soon. the imaculate line and length from the australian bowlers also show how they really want to win, improve, and hungry to reach the number one spot. the captancy of clarke also shown the fresh mind and maturity. now slowly remove all the aged players to build young team.

  • MENDIS_Forever on September 2, 2011, 14:22 GMT

    hi..bag full of congrats to australia.They have proven that they arethe best even without the legends.Our guys (SL) have got a lot more to learn.The changes I'd lke to see in near future are:- * bringing back Malinda Warnapura.(He was dropped for nothing.para s not good enough to be a test opener,though he score 50 from 250 balls)

    * giving immediate debuts to Nuwan pradeep.(wannabe Malinga)

    * gving debut to Sachitra Senanayake (the swann of SL domestic cricket.The guy's avg is amazing.)

    * dropping Prasanna J for Kaushal Silva or Chanidmal (both are good batsmen,handy glovemen.)

    * dropping mathews from the Test squad(sorry)

    *Nurturng Lakmal well.(He is a good bowler,but lacks the experience)

    * Dilshan should be a bit cunning and tactical.(He doesn't have the wit of Sanga or Mahya)

    here we go then......

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on September 2, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    Well played Australia, but they've got a long, long way to go. I'd say this Aussie side is at the stage England were after the 06/07 Ashes: They have to rebuilt from scratch after years of utter humiliation. Being 5 to 6 years behind sounds a lot, but if they show the will to win they can go from strength to strength if they choose to.

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  • Front-Foot-Lunge on September 2, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    Well played Australia, but they've got a long, long way to go. I'd say this Aussie side is at the stage England were after the 06/07 Ashes: They have to rebuilt from scratch after years of utter humiliation. Being 5 to 6 years behind sounds a lot, but if they show the will to win they can go from strength to strength if they choose to.

  • MENDIS_Forever on September 2, 2011, 14:22 GMT

    hi..bag full of congrats to australia.They have proven that they arethe best even without the legends.Our guys (SL) have got a lot more to learn.The changes I'd lke to see in near future are:- * bringing back Malinda Warnapura.(He was dropped for nothing.para s not good enough to be a test opener,though he score 50 from 250 balls)

    * giving immediate debuts to Nuwan pradeep.(wannabe Malinga)

    * gving debut to Sachitra Senanayake (the swann of SL domestic cricket.The guy's avg is amazing.)

    * dropping Prasanna J for Kaushal Silva or Chanidmal (both are good batsmen,handy glovemen.)

    * dropping mathews from the Test squad(sorry)

    *Nurturng Lakmal well.(He is a good bowler,but lacks the experience)

    * Dilshan should be a bit cunning and tactical.(He doesn't have the wit of Sanga or Mahya)

    here we go then......

  • on September 2, 2011, 14:43 GMT

    now its time to deliver by the youngster. i'really impressed the way khawaja bats in this match and prety much confident that he'll also scores in three figure soon. the imaculate line and length from the australian bowlers also show how they really want to win, improve, and hungry to reach the number one spot. the captancy of clarke also shown the fresh mind and maturity. now slowly remove all the aged players to build young team.

  • Ellis on September 2, 2011, 14:43 GMT

    The writing was on the wall for SL after the Australian first innings. To expect any side to get the highest score of the match in the fourth innings on a wicket like the one at Galle, defies credibility. The officials who strategise for the SL team are far more responsible for the debacle than the players themselves.There cannot have been too many worse wickets prepared for a Test, than this one. This is an issue of being too smart for one's own good. Jayawardene, Hussey, Clarke aside, no other batsman has come to terms with this deplorable pitch. Dilshan's approach to batting in this game has been totally irresponsible. All these comments about a sporting pitch are nonsense.Let's call a spade a spade. It is not a pitch worthy of a Test.

  • on September 2, 2011, 15:22 GMT

    Australia are one team that never give up.Highly combative and bring something to Cricket.They are one team that could challenge the Great West Indies sides from 1950 to 1995.If Australia cull the BBL monster and get their players to skip IPL they will take a huge step forward.Plus skipping the IPL would help India too as Australian Players are major crowd pullers among the Internationals.This could dilute the IPL monster.

  • on September 2, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    OZ back 2 it`s best....

    C`mon rule d INTL CRICKET again fr a decade....

  • sifter132 on September 2, 2011, 22:08 GMT

    I like the sentiment, but I was a bit scared to read this..."it was Australia's first Test win in the subcontinent since a 2-0 series defeat of Bangladesh in 2006." SL still has 2 pretty good batsmen at the crease - let's not count the chickens yet...

  • smudgeon on September 2, 2011, 22:51 GMT

    It was just a bizarre decision by the SL selectors to leave Mendis out, particularly given the pitch prepared in Galle. If anyone was really going to run-through the Australian line-up on a dust-bowl like this, it was him. Missed opportunity. Definitely a ways to go for Australia, but the fact they are picking young players like Hughes, Khawaja, Copeland & Lyon shows they have a real eye on developing a team that will be difficult to beat in 5 years' time. Let's just hope the new selection panel persist with them.

  • dsig3 on September 2, 2011, 23:33 GMT

    We are not back. We are a very, very long way away from the top sides. 1 win does not suddenly mean we are going to shift into dominating mode again. Its not going to happen as Daniel has pointed out. The important thing is we are playing well. The toss has assisted us along with an opposition which has been well off the boil. These are good signs but this series is going to continue after Galle. Lets keep a bit of perspective.

  • binojpeter on September 3, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    I am an Indian but I have to say that I was bit disappointed in not seeing Ajantha Mendis in the SL side. I still believe that he is a force in Tests in subcontinent. He would have made a good pair with Herath. I have not yet able to see Prasanna bowl, so I cannot commend about him. I think Randiv is just below the level of Mendis and maybe Prasanna.