Third Test

Australia in Sri Lanka, 2011-12

Peter Lalor

At Colombo (SSC), September 16-20, 2011. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: R. M. S. Eranga.

The teams arrived in Colombo for the final Test with different concerns. Sri Lanka needed a win to square the series and end a dispiriting period since Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement, while Clarke - who needed to avoid defeat to ensure he left with a series victory in his first proper outing as Test captain - was becoming agitated as the Australian media continued to remind him that his last 22 Test innings had not produced a century. His other concern was Hughes, the opener who had yet to convince as a replacement for Katich. Both Clarke and Hughes had batted well at times, but headline writers demand headline innings, and neither had been able to meet that request.

Australia welcomed back Ponting, but Clarke had to break the news that he had been usurped from the No. 3 position he had occupied for a decade. Marsh was now the man to steer the innings: Ponting descended to No. 4, with Clarke and the in-form Hussey dropping a place as well. Harris, the tourists' best bowler to date, pulled out with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Siddle. The fit-again Herath came back for Sri Lanka, while seamer Shaminda Eranga made his debut, replacing batsman Thilan Samaraweera who, despite a recent poor run with the bat, had previously scored heavily on his home club ground. But Sri Lanka still had considerable local knowledge: Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene boasted 17 Test centuries between them at the venue. This was their turf; they had spent more time in the middle than many a batsman spends in his own bed.

Dilshan put Australia in and, after Hughes fell in Lakmal's first over, Eranga came on at first change for the ninth over. He made a sensational start to his Test career, as Watson carved his first ball to backward point. Eranga was only the second bowler to strike with his first ball for Sri Lanka, after Chamila Gamage Lakshitha against Bangladesh in 2002, also on this ground. Lakshitha played only one further Test, but Eranga looked destined for a more permanent spot. He finished the first innings with four wickets, including Hussey's - although not before he had added another century to his collection. Marsh justified the decision to keep him at first drop, surviving four and a half hours for a solid 81.

Sri Lanka needed to seize the initiative if they were to share the series, but while they did indeed manage a big lead, much of the advantage was squandered by a painfully slow maiden century from Mathews, who batted for 404 minutes in all. His decision to crawl towards three figures, not accepting singles for fear of exposing the tail, was defended by his captain but widely criticised elsewhere. Siddle bowled well, adjusting his usual back- of-a-length deliveries to the conditions and snaring four wickets.

Australia needed to avoid an early collapse if they were to hang on to their series lead, and duly did so. Their pre-match batting worries had intensified in the first innings when Hughes fell second ball and Clarke scored only six, but now the two New South Welshmen dug in for gutsy centuries. Hughes reined in his attacking instincts to bat for 314 minutes and compile his first Test hundred since scoring two in only his second match, against South Africa at Durban in March 2009. Clarke glided to his 15th Test century, collecting 14 fours and three sixes.

The Sinhalese Sports Club pitch might just be the best road in the country, and its benign nature soon made it apparent there would be no result. Herath persevered well, and was rewarded with the wickets of the top five, finishing the series with 16 wickets from two matches. Hussey fell seven short of a third successive hundred, but did manage a third successive match award, a unique feat: only Ian Botham, in the six-match 1981 Ashes series, had ever won three in one rubber before (although such awards only became a regular feature of Test matches in the early 1980s).

Clarke was presented with the striking Warne-Muralitharan Trophy and, while he was happy with a 1-0 series win, he insisted he had been hoping for a whitewash. Dilshan, in contrast, admitted his side had a lot to work on if they were to turn around a streak of 11 winless Tests.

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

© John Wisden & Co.