Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd Test, Colombo, 1st day September 16, 2011

Marsh stars again on hard-fought day


Australia 235 for 5 (Marsh 81, Hussey 63*) v Sri Lanka
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Shaun Marsh justified Australia's decision to keep him at No.3 by making a wonderful 81, but Sri Lanka finished the first day with a slight edge in a match they must win to draw the series. A day that began with changes galore for both sides and an unexpected decision from Tillakaratne Dilshan to send Australia in on a good batting surface finished with the visitors at 235 for 5, with Michael Hussey the key.

The Sri Lankans would have liked more than five wickets after Dilshan's decision at the toss, when he expected seam movement after rain in the lead-up to the match, but they were still in a reasonable position with only Australia's bowlers still to bat. Hussey, demoted to No.6 to accommodate Marsh and Ricky Ponting up the order, was on 63 when bad light forced an early close and he had Brad Haddin for company on 21.

It was one of the most evenly-contested days of the series. The Sri Lankans picked up Australia's openers within the first ten overs, the seamer Shaminda Eranga getting a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket, before Ponting, Marsh and Hussey provided some fight for Australia. The major concern for Australia was the continued poor form of the captain Michael Clarke and the opener Phillip Hughes, who made a second-ball duck.

But the 70-run partnership between Marsh and Hussey, the centurions from last week's Pallekele Test, steered Australia in the right direction, both men showing the sort of composure some of their colleagues had lacked. Hussey continued to look impenetrable, covering the spin against Rangana Herath and driving the fast men along the ground, and he passed fifty for the eighth time in his past 13 Test innings.

Marsh was especially was impressive in his attitude, defending the good balls, leaving those he could, and choosing the right ones to put away. He brought up his half-century from his 125th delivery with a pull for four off Suranga Lakmal, and it was typical of his innings: a bad ball, and no risk in the stroke.

He played some wonderful straight drives and square cuts, and in doing so recorded the highest aggregate ever by an Australia Test player in his first two Test innings, passing the 208 made by Kepler Wessels back in 1982. Marsh looked set to become the first Australian to make a century in each of his first two Test innings when he played inside the spin of Herath and was bowled.

It was an uncharacteristic lapse, but on a humid day when he'd been at the crease for four and a half hours, it was understandable. There could be no such excuse for Clarke, who on 6 flashed at a wide ball - not for the first time in this series - and was caught behind off Eranga. Clarke had moved down to No.5 in the top-order shimmy that allowed Marsh to stay at first drop.

Ponting came in at No.4 for the first time in his Test career, apart from when nightwatchmen had been used, and he looked in fine form with a pair of cover-driven boundaries off Chanaka Welegedara. However, on 48, he too lost patience and drove at a fullish outswinger from Lakmal, sending a regulation edge through to Prasanna Jayawardene.

Sri Lanka had used up both of their reviews on Ponting, but they had no such trouble getting rid of Hughes and Shane Watson. Hughes fell in the second over when Lakmal angled the ball across the left-hander and straightened it just a fraction off the seam. The ball caught the inside edge of the bat as Hughes defended away from his body, and the stumps were rattled by a ball he could have left alone.

It was a disappointing effort from Hughes, who is viewed by the selectors as the long-term opening partner for Shane Watson but has not reached fifty in any of his past ten Test innings. Watson is also experiencing an uncharacteristic lean patch, and that continued when on 8, he drove hard at a full and wide delivery from Eranga and was snapped up at backward point.

It was a joyous moment for Eranga, who became the second Sri Lankan to take a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket, after Chamila Gamage in 2002, and the second man to achieve the feat in this series after Australia's Nathan Lyon. The inclusion of Eranga was one of a raft of changes to Sri Lanka's line-up for this Test.

Herath was included after missing the Pallekele Test due to a finger injury, and the Sri Lankans went for a more seam-heavy attack by dropping the spinners Suraj Randiv and Seekkuge Prasanna. They also axed the veteran batsman Thilan Samaraweera and brought in Lahiru Thirimanne, who will open, while Dilshan will move down to No.5.

Dilshan was full of surprises at the toss. It was the 12th occasion a captain had sent the opposition in at the SSC, but only twice has that decision led to a victory: both times against Bangladesh. Whether that becomes three times from 12 occasions will depend partly on how long it takes Sri Lanka to finish Australia off on the second day.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Basil on September 17, 2011, 6:19 GMT

    May the words "Johnson" and "all-rounder" never be used in the same sentence ever again.

  • Christopher on September 17, 2011, 6:07 GMT

    @Marcio,@onlinegamer55 and@Ngee-Ming Goh...i think you are all spot on. Those others who are so easily fooled by effect and not cause and who continue to play the,'technique is the panacea for all ills'are simply demonstrating a total lack of understanding of cricket.Men make runs,not techniques.Records dont lie.Shield is stronger than this SL side and the curator produce great pitches.Hughes is a 22 year old, coming champion being poorly led.

  • sam on September 17, 2011, 4:50 GMT

    I agree to an extent with a majority of the comments. One more thing, Jonathan Trott will not average over 60 if he plays 75+ test matches.

  • Dummy4 on September 17, 2011, 4:50 GMT

    Shaun Marsh deserves to be in the team as opener because he has the right technique, ability and the right mental attitude. Philip Hughes just has to be dropped - he has no technique and failed last season at every grade of cricket he played. he has had more chances than any other opening batsman, more failures and yet the journalists who engineered Matty Hayden's retirement after a couple of bad decisions are incredibly silent over Hughes' continued failures and ineptness. Our selectors must be replaced as they have done an incredibly bad job taking our national team from top of the world to also rans and easy beats. Hi ditch has been just disgraceful and as long as he and Clarke and Hughes remain, we are destined to stay easy beats.

  • Dummy4 on September 17, 2011, 3:35 GMT

    Hmmm. Some players (not many) do tend to flourish at international level as opposed to domestic cricket. For England, Michael Vaughan was picked despite a moderate county record due to the promise of his temperament and technique. His Test average has ended up 5-6 runs more than his domestic average. Another current England player with a test record superior to his domestic record is Jonathan Trott. I guess the often batting-unfriendly surfaces/condition in England don't help there though. [Contrast that to JP Duminy's ruinous recent Test record vs his domestic]

    Hard to say about Marsh. Don't think he's got the destructive potential of Hughes at the top of the order but with Ponting and Hussey not getting younger I suspect he and Khawaja will have fairly long runs in the team down the line. Think Hughes has got the opener spot pretty nailed down unless he has a horrific run of form. Not sure if anyone else is coming through really.... Callum Ferguson has never really convinced me.

  • Dummy4 on September 17, 2011, 3:00 GMT

    they'd be stupid not to keep marsh in the side in australia's summer series. at the moment he has an average of 110 after 2 innings

  • Online on September 17, 2011, 1:30 GMT

    @Marcio You are absolutely spot on mate, although you probably don't need to be told that. Look at Michael Clarke; he began his test career with a first class batting average of 37. He briefly hit a test batting average of 50 but his batting average is now falling swiftly with every game and, mark my words, it will soon drop to 40. First class batting averages do not lie. A batsmen's test batting average is almost always (at the end of his career) no more than 5 runs than his test average. As we shall see, Marsh is a short-term No. 3 for Australia. His career will be in tatters by this time next year fighting to play for WA's 2nd XI team. Hughes, on the other hand, will have 6-7 centuries to his name. How do I know? I have been following Shield Cricket for years and when Hughes is in form, trust me, he is IN FORM. He can score centuries after centuries without difficulty. Marsh, on the other hand, is in form about once every 2nd or 3rd year and gets single digit scores very often.

  • Online on September 17, 2011, 1:24 GMT

    @David47 I have a few words to write, mate. Shaun Marsh has played two good innings against a very poor attack on a flat batting track. Marsh's fall will be just as swift as his rise as you will see on the South African tour. Hughes, on the other hand, is a kid with real talent. At the age of 22, he averages nearly 20 runs more than Marsh for NSW and has already hit twin centuries against one of the best bowling attacks in the world. I know what you are going to ask: if the attack was very poor and if the track was flat, then how come Hughes did not score any runs? The reason is simple. Inasmuch as a couple of good innings implies nothing about the long-term career of a batsmen, a couple of bad innings does not imply anything about the long-term career of a batsmen. Batsmen make mistakes. Marsh, too, edged a ball into the slip cordon early in his innings but the ball did not carry. I assure you that Marsh' career will be in tatters this time next year fighting to play for WA 2nd XI.

  • Ben on September 17, 2011, 1:03 GMT

    also @ tragicmagic, that's pretty harsh in regards to the photo, Marsh's innings was practically faultless until he got out.. generally when you're playing a cover drive, the bat has to face that direction which is what the photo shows... if that was a ball on 4th stump line I could understand, but not sure how you play a cover drive without angling your bat?????

  • Ben on September 17, 2011, 1:00 GMT

    @RJHB, haha.. I like that last comment & it is so true mate, that's the 4th time I can remember in the past 18 months where he has thrown his bat at a wide one only to be caught at point (2nd innings 1st test, Adelaide ashes etc.) I did have belief in Hughes, even supported his stay in this test, but after yesterday, I think you're correct, he needs to work on the mental side of things a bit more & it is about time we give Kwawaja a go at opening......

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