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September 3, 2011
Australia's team for the first Test was well prepared, well drilled, well motivated and well selected. So much so that not even a spiteful Galle pitch could upset its progress against opponents who were far less steady in their make-up and attitude. Michael Clarke rejoiced after a job well done in his first Test as full-time captain and selector, and saved special praise for Ryan Harris, who was playing his first international match since returning from an ankle fracture.
The composition of the team had been in doubt until match eve, when Clarke announced that the childhood friends and bowlers, Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon, would debut together. The state of the pitch had caused debate over the need for two spinners, but Copeland and Lyon were the ideal additions to a team that successfully strangled Sri Lanka's batting after posting 273 on day one.
"Definitely [it was satisfying to choose the right team]. Yes we could have picked two spinners but I guess we as selectors thought that we had the right group of eleven players to take the field for this Test match," Clarke said. "I was confident that we could win the game with the eleven players.
"I'm sure Kandy's going to be a different surface now, with the way this game turned out, and we'll reassess in Kandy. I think that's important for us as a selection group, that we do pick what we feel is the best eleven for the conditions for that given game.
"It's very easy while you're winning to stick with the same team but, as I said to all the boys in that changing room, what's going to help us have success over a long period of time is a good group, a strong squad and that's not just the 15 players here. That's all the contracted players being on one page, going in the same direction."
At least one change is guaranteed, as Ricky Ponting leaves to be present for the birth of his second child. Shaun Marsh will be in line to debut at No. 6 while Usman Khawaja moves back up to No. 3. David Warner has been called up as the standby batsman. Warner's rise as a potential Test player has been dramatic, but there are no greater stories of reinvention in the current side than that of Harris.
Starting out as an injury-prone medium pacer with South Australia, Harris is now the most effective bowler in the Test team, offering pace, movement and a huge heart for hard work and the contest. In addition to his ankle, healed after a fracture during the Melbourne Ashes Test, Harris bowls on a wonky knee. Clarke hoped the joint would hold out for some time yet.
"Hopefully to the end of my career," Clarke said. "What a bowler. What a bloke. A great guy to have in your team. Will do anything for the team and at any stage, give him the new ball, give him the old ball, even into the breeze, he doesn't care. He loves playing for Australia and we love having him around. He's in pretty good hands I think. Alex [Kountouris], our physio, is a genius. He manages to keep a lot of us on the park daily so I'm really confident we can keep Rhino [Harris] around for a bit longer yet."
Australia's victory was held up by Angeo Mathews and Mahela Jaywardene, but Clarke said he had been hanging out for the arrival of the second new ball to scythe through the rest.
"I think today certainly, once the hardness went out of the ball, the wicket didn't have as much oomph in it. It seemed pretty dead to be honest," Clarke said. "Even the spin was slower spin off the wicket, wasn't such sharp turn. I'd hate to say the toss did determine the game, but I know I wouldn't have liked to be chasing, or for Sri Lanka to have 280 on the board at the end of day one after knowing what it was like to bat out there."
Cradling a 1-0 lead into Kandy, Clarke promised there would be no slackening in effort, saying his men had arrived in Sri Lanka with three victories, and not one, in mind. "We know we've got to be at our best, and there's certainly areas of our game that need to improve from this match, but I think overall we played some really good positive cricket," Clarke said. "The most important thing is we had our plans. We stuck to them through thick and thin.
"We supported each other, whether that was in the field with the bowlers, our tail wagged with the bat, there's so many things that we did really well throughout the Test match. No doubt we have to turn up for the next Test and be at our best again. We know it's going to be tough to play here but we didn't come here to win one Test match, we've come to win three Test matches."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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