First Test

Australia in Sri Lanka, 2011-12

Peter Lalor

At Galle, August 31-September 3, 2011. Australia won by 125 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debuts: T. A. Copeland, N. M. Lyon.

It quickly became apparent that the pitch had been designed as a secondary defence against invaders in case the Galle Fort failed to do the job. The problem for Sri Lanka, though, was that the invaders won the toss, thus robbing Dilshan of the chance to let his spinners loose on a crumbling fourth-innings surface. The handicap proved decisive, and worse would follow a month later, when the ICC issued Sri Lanka Cricket with an official warning for preparing a pitch rated "poor" by the referee, Chris Broad.

Excessive early turn and uneven bounce as the ball went through the surface on the first day meant Australia's 273 felt more than respectable. That argument was later articulated by Hussey, who had arrived at 91 for three shortly after lunch and was last out for 95 a shade over four hours later. The tourists' bowlers then backed up his claim. Trent Copeland took a wicket with his second ball in Tests, a reinvigorated Ponting holding a cat-like catch at short cover to see off Dilshan. But the real excitement was generated by Nathan Lyon, the South Australia off-spinner who was introduced in the 16th over and lured Sangakkara into a fatal push outside off with his first ball in Tests. By the time the Sri Lankans toppled for a terminal 105, Lyon had a bag of five, capping a remarkable debut by holding a diving return catch high to his right to remove Welagedara.

Hughes's second-innings dismissal reopened the debate about technology: Hawk-Eye's operators confessed to a ball-tracking error following Dilshan's successful lbw appeal. The ball seemed to turn considerably before striking the sweeping batsman on the pad but, on review, Hawk-Eye predicted it would go straight on and hit the stumps, so Hughes still had to go. However, Clarke's aggressive 60 held Australia together, and the last three wickets added 80 useful runs. Herath was the main destroyer, collecting his fifth Test five- for, but a target of 379 looked mountainous: with two days to go, the pitch was nothing less than a batsman's nightmare, particularly for left-handers at the Fort End, who were faced with a deep gouge that ran for two metres on and outside off stump. The only certainty about balls landing there was the uncertainty about how they would behave.

It was no surprise, then, that Sri Lanka - who lost Paranavitana to the first ball of the innings - fell short; nor that it was two right-handers who alone managed to put up any resistance. But that is to take nothing away from Mahela Jayawardene's 29th Test century, the only one of the match. His five hours 11 minutes at the crease were a lesson in how to bat when the cause seems lost: he was patient, exploited the lack of bounce from the ageing ball, and showed an ability to blunt the seamers that was beyond too many of his team-mates. He shared a Sri Lankan record sixth-wicket stand against Australia of 142 with Mathews, batting at No. 7 like a man not long destined for so lowly a position.

But with the second new ball only six overs old, the tireless Harris - who went on to complete his second Test five-for - bowled Jayawardene to snuff out any hope of a famous win. Mathews, meanwhile, was unable to join his team-mate on three figures: with a maiden Test hundred one blow away, he was bowled by Watson. Lyon finished things off shortly afterwards, and the Australians celebrated with a rendition of the team song on top of the fort. Galle had become a venue of some resonance for them: the scene of Ponting's first win as Test captain, way back in March 2004, and now Clarke's too. It was also an unprecedented 100th Test win for Ponting as a Test player, before he headed home for the birth of his second child.

Man of the Match: M. E. K. Hussey.

© John Wisden & Co.