First Test

Australia v Sri Lanka 2007-08

Mike Coward

At Brisbane, November 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 2007. Australia won by an innings and 40 runs. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: M. G. Johnson.

Mahela Jayawardene's ill-judged decision to put Australia in, which ultimately brought a crushing defeat, was not widely analysed, because of an intellectual-property dispute between Cricket Australia and news organisations, which led to a lockout of many media representatives on the first day before a deal was brokered. They were not the only absentees: umpires Steve Bucknor then Aleem Dar encountered visa problems, and were replaced late on by Tony Hill from New Zealand.

While Ponting was relieved he did not have to make the call at the toss, given the damp conditions and bleak weather forecast, Jayawardene's decision was as stunning as the decision to make Malinga, his fastest bowler, twelfth man. Memories immediately turned to the Ashes Test, five years earlier to the week, when Nasser Hussain made a similar blunder and paid equally dearly. This time the Australians exceeded 500 for the loss of only four wickets, and consigned the Sri Lankans to almost two full days of misery, punctuated only by breaks for rain and bad light.

A wet ball throughout the first day increased the degree of difficulty for an attack which, with the exception of Muralitharan, was as predictable as it was pedestrian. By stumps the extent of the challenge was painfully clear to Jayawardene. After a nervous start - his first run came from his 34th ball - Jaques, in his first Test for 19 months, made the most of his opportunity with a solid maiden century. While many favoured his inclusion to replace the retired Justin Langer, the West Australian Chris Rogers also had his supporters, and Jaques revealed an impressive toughness of resolve to make the most of his chance. He batted for 17 minutes shy of five hours for his even 100. Such was his excitement at realising an ambition cherished since childhood that before adding to his score he recklessly left his crease against Muralitharan and was promptly stumped by the neat and able Prasanna Jayawardene.

Jaques's departure cleared the way for a thrilling partnership of 245 between Hussey and Clarke. The most joyful of batsmen, they were in irresistible touch. He may be uneasy about the sobriquet "Mr Cricket", but Hussey continued to play to his startling Test average of around 80, and was at the crease for 354 minutes. And unfazed at being anointed by both Ponting and former coach John Buchanan as the next Australian captain, Clarke played with the new maturity demanded by his mentors, and batted for 367 minutes.

Clarke, indeed, lasted seven minutes longer than Sri Lanka managed in their entire first innings. Sensing their demoralisation, Ponting enforced the follow-on for only the second time. In the absence of the injured Sangakkara, only Atapattu in the first innings and Vandort in the second managed half-centuries. Vandort eventually became MacGill's 200th wicket, in his 41st Test - only Clarrie Grimmett (36 matches), Dennis Lillee and Waqar Younis (both 38) reached the landmark more quickly (Ian Botham also did it in 41, but took only four years to MacGill's ten).

Buoyed by added responsibility, Lee spearheaded the Australian attack with considerable aplomb, taking four wickets in each innings. He also thoughtfully mentored the debutant left-armer Mitchell Johnson, who quickly found line and rhythm at a very respectable pace. Johnson was preferred to Ben Hilfenhaus, who was summoned to replace the injured Shaun Tait in the original squad.

Man of the Match: B. Lee. Attendance: 55,947.

Close of play: First day, Australia 242-3 (Hussey 28, Clarke 5); Second day, Sri Lanka 31-2 (Atapattu 19, D. P. M. D. Jayawardene 5); Third day, Sri Lanka 80-2 (Vandort 15, D. P. M. D. Jayawardene 8); Fourth day, Sri Lanka 218-5 (Silva 5, H. A. P. W. Jayawardene 0).

© John Wisden & Co.
 
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