"Perhaps this is the most scary part: that you can assemble all the best people in one place, give everybody all the resources they need, and yet whatever you do will still always be a leap in the dark. Nobody can truly be sure of anything."

Jonathan Liew used these words in The Telegraph this week to describe the sense of uncertainty around English football's huge, and hugely resourced, development hub St George's Park. The FA could not have thrown any more money at the facility and its staff, yet it is now 50 years since the country's last major tournament victory.

Australian cricket has it own performance and development greenhouse, the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane. It also has a similarly limitless amount of funds to throw around, bolstered by multi-million dollar television deals and strong participation numbers among juniors that make it Australia's favourite sport.

But the certainty thought to be provided by this infrastructure lasts only as long as Australia's cricketers play at home. Their record of success in Asia is about as good as England's in World Cups, and this week's defeat to a transitional Sri Lanka in Pallekele felt something like the Three Lions' demise at the hands of Iceland - if Sri Lanka were that organised.

Certainly there was an air of bewilderment about the selection chairman Rod Marsh as he tried to make sense of the result, which puts Australia's No. 1 ranking at considerable risk. Ostensibly speaking about the ODI team to play after the Tests, his mind remained fixed on what he'd just witnessed over the previous five days. In response to a query about the full limited-overs squad being used, Marsh replied: "It depends how we're going. If we play like we played in this Test match there'll be a heck of a lot of players playing.

"I don't think we can pick a better team. We've got all the people who deserve to be here on numbers. People talk about the way we play spin bowling, well there's no doubt about the fact we don't play it as well as the way we play pace bowling in Australia. But that's something that's a work in progress. Everyone's had the preparation for this tour, we couldn't have done anymore, and we had an opportunity after bowling them out for 117, we only make 200 - unbelievable."

To some degree, Australia were beaten in Pallekele by a combination of circumstances and surprises. Steve O'Keefe was injured at an awkward moment; David Warner was short of match practice after a broken finger; the skills of Kusal Mendis and Lakshan Sandakan were not widely known to the tourists before their arrival, and in the case of the latter footage was scarce. But they were also undone by problems glimpsed often before: porous techniques allowing too many balls to hit pads or stumps; mental errors with the bat that would not take place in Australia; indifferent bowling to the tail. Marsh cannot see how any of this related to preparation or resources.

"What else can we do really?" he said. "We send them off to India, we send them to other parts of the world where the ball turns, we played Australia A series in India last year and they batted well against good spin bowling. But it gets to a Test match and whether it's the extra pressure of it being a Test match, whether it's the fact that we historically haven't done well on turning pitches on the subcontinent. Whether that plays on their minds I'm not sure. But it's a work in progress.

"There were some positive signs as well. I thought Joe Burns played really well in that second innings after perhaps not looking too sound in the first innings. He went to plan B and he looked really good until he didn't hit one..."

Another glimpse of better things was offered by Mitchell Marsh who got into both of his innings nicely before small errors led to his dismissal. Marsh has been the subject of much scrutiny over his place, as a project player not yet pulling his weight as a batsman in particular. But the selectors are determined to persevere with him for reasons of balance, and talent. They hope the investment leads to greater returns in Galle.

"To look at the way he batted in this game, in the context of the game where, apart from a bloke who got 176, he was one of the best batsmen in the game," Rod Marsh said. "But he got 31 and 25 and that's the sad part. He started beautifully on both occasions, but that can happen on pitches like this, you get on with your name on it.

"He missed one in the first innings, which he wouldn't like, at least he's got his pad in front of this one, but he is in good nick. His bowling's probably kept him in the side to a degree, but his bowling's going to be less important here than his batting. He's got a big reach as well, and I think that helps often on turning pitches."

Pallekele and Galle are about as far from the manufactured spin wickets of the NCC as it is possible to get. The certainties of Australia fade away, replaced by Asian mystery and surprise. In a situation where Australia are 1-0 down to a team they should be beating, the visitors must try to hold their nerve and believe they have done the work to be successful. In the middle of a series there is really no alternative.

"It's about each individual having a game plan that can work," the captain Steven Smith said. "For some it might be being a little bit more aggressive. For others it might be sitting on the crease and using their bat out in front. We just have to find a way."