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All-round consistency seals triumph

Michael Hussey celebrates his century on the third morning AFP

Like his predecessor Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke started his Test captaincy with a series win in Sri Lanka. Although the end result was not as convincing as the 3-0 win in 2004, a new-look Australia were much more disciplined and aggressive than Sri Lanka throughout the series. Following a terrible run in 2010 when they lost 2-0 in India and 3-1 in the Ashes, Australia entered the first Test in Galle as underdogs considering Sri Lanka's excellent home record. Michael Hussey's resolute 95 pushed Australia to 273 after they were in trouble at 112 for 4. Nathan Lyon's five-wicket haul on debut helped the visitors to bowl Sri Lanka out for just 105. Sri Lanka, faced with a target of 379, briefly threatened to make a match of it, but eventually went down by 125 runs. Following the success in the first Test, Australia dominated the rain-affected second Test and comfortably drew the third at the SSC to consign Sri Lanka to their first home-series defeat since 2006.

Hussey's remarkable resurgence in Tests continued in the series as he amassed 463 runs in the three Tests. With 570 runs, he was also Australia's highest run-getter in the disastrous Ashes campaign. Between his debut and the end of 2007, Hussey had made a terrific start to his Test career with seven centuries in his first 19 Tests at an average of 80.58. His form fell drastically over the next two years as he averaged just 37.04 in 27 Tests. Following his outstanding century in the Sydney Test against Pakistan in 2010, Hussey came back to form and has now scored four centuries in his last eight Tests. In five innings in the series, Hussey scored two centuries and was out twice in the nineties thus narrowly missing out on Brian Lara's record for the most centuries by an overseas player in a Test series in Sri Lanka.

During the course of the series, Hussey went past the 5000-run mark in Tests and also became the eighth Australia batsman to score over 1000 runs in the subcontinent. Hussey's average of 63.05 is the highest among all Australia batsmen to score over 1000 runs in Asia. His aggregate of 463 runs in the three-Test series is the second-highest by a visiting batsman in Sri Lanka after Brian Lara's 688 runs in the 2001-02 series. With his impressive performances, he also achieved the remarkable feat of winning three consecutive player-of-the-match awards.

Australia proved to be much more consistent than Sri Lanka in both the batting and bowling departments. They averaged 36.12 runs per wicket as compared to Sri Lanka, who averaged 28.89. The Australia batsmen also had a much better conversion rate of fifties to centuries. They scored five hundreds and four fifties (hundreds-to-fifties ratio of 1.25) while Sri Lanka managed only two centuries and eight fifties (hundreds-to-fifties ratio of 0.25). Australia's positive approach was also reflected in the fact that they scored at a quicker rate than Sri Lanka in both the first and second innings. Although Sri Lanka's average (36.06) in the second innings was marginally better than Australia's (34.90), they were disappointing in the first innings of the first two Tests averaging just 25.60. Sri Lanka had two more century partnerships than Australia, but the visitors had 12 fifty-plus stands as compared to the home side's eight. .

Australia featured a new opening combination for the series with the return of Phillip Hughes. Hughes endured a tough time in the first two Tests before bouncing back with a fine century in the third Test at the SSC. It was Hughes' first century since his twin centuries in his second Test against South Africa in March 2009. His more established opening partner Shane Watson, however, had a an ordinary series by his recent high standards managing just 87 runs in five innings. Australia's biggest gain in the batting department was Shaun Marsh, who made his debut in the second Test, scoring a century batting at No. 3. In the first innings in Pallekele, Marsh, together with Hussey, was involved in the highest fourth-wicket partnership for Australia against Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka had their own problems at the top of the order with Tillakaratne Dilshan struggling for consistency. Incidentally, both teams scored nearly the same number of runs for the first and second-wicket partnerships. The Kumar Sangakkara-Mahela Jayawardene pairing, which had aggregated only 117 runs in five innings against Australia before the start of the series, found some form in the final two Tests with two century partnerships. However, the star for Sri Lanka was Angelo Mathews, who scored 274 runs in five innings with a century and two fifties. Mathews forged useful partnerships in the middle-order in the second Test and kept Sri Lanka alive in the series. The Australian middle-order batsmen applied themselves better than their Sri Lankan counterparts across the three Tests, and their positive batting proved to be the crucial difference in the end.

In the first two Tests, Ryan Harris was the key bowler for Australia. He constantly troubled all Sri Lanka's batsmen with his movement and was particularly effective against the right handers by bringing the ball back sharply into them. He picked up Dilshan and Prasanna Jayawardene on two occasions and crucially dismissed Mahela Jayawardene in the second innings of the first Test giving Australia the victory. Harris, the highest wicket-taker for Australia with 11 wickets at an average of just 14.54, was missed in the third Test as Australia's attack looked less incisive. Trent Copeland, who made his debut in the first Test, also tasted significant success against Dilshan dismissing the batsman three times. Mitchell Johnson's form will, however, continue to be a cause for concern for Australia. Johnson picked up six wickets at an average of 52.16 and struggled for impact in all games.

For Sri Lanka, Rangana Herath was the standout bowler with 16 wickets at an average of 23.00. Although he leaked runs while bowling to Clarke, Herath picked up the Australian captain's wicket three times. Brad Haddin, who had an ordinary series with the bat, struggled to score off Herath and was dismissed twice scoring 24 runs.

More than the batting quality, it was Muttiah Muralitharan's extraordinary bowling that had transformed Sri Lanka into a competitive Test team away and a daunting opponent in home Tests. In home matches in which Muralitharan played (Tests since 2000), Sri Lanka were well and truly dominant winning 28 Tests and losing just 11. They had a bowling average of 26.36 as compared to visiting teams who averaged nearly 42.11. Although there have been only six Tests played in Sri Lanka since Muralitharan's retirement, the drastic drop in the bowling quality is highly evident. Sri Lanka have failed to win even one of the six Tests and struggled to bowl out even a weak West Indies team. In recent home Tests, while Sri Lanka's bowling average has shot up to 37.31, the corresponding figure for visiting teams is 34.17. In home Tests featuring Muralitharan, Sri Lanka picked up 18 wickets per match on an average, but since his retirement, the corresponding number has dropped to less than 13.