Match Analysis

Welcome to the Upside Down world, Sri Lanka

Australia have dominated, and the home side has been in disarray. Shoes have switched feet, and tables are upturned

[Start of match report]
Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith made important centuries in Galle, as Australia continued to torment visitors Sri Lanka, moving to 298 for 5 by stumps on day one.
For Labuschagne, who had passed fifty only once in Pakistan, this return to home soil brought a particularly welcome century, as he used his know-how on spinning pitches to hit 104 off 156.
He swept often, and frequently made trips down the pitch.
Smith, perhaps even more impressive during his 109 not out, pounced on anything full from the Sri Lankan spinners, sending them repeatedly through cover, while also flicking beautifully through midwicket.
Smith only occasionally employed the sweep - the most talked-about stroke of the series - preferring instead to trust his own strengths on a familiar track.
The paucity of Sri Lanka's spin stocks, meanwhile, was exposed.
With left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama ruled out due to Covid, and with Lasith Embuldeniya having been dropped on account of his poor form, Sri Lanka were forced to field two debutants in their attack, who each took time to settle at the Test level.
Given the illness ripping through the squad, and the drubbing they received in the first Test, this is increasingly beginning to seem a torrid away tour.


It's a match report from a parallel universe, but the way this series has panned out, Australia have dominated, and Sri Lanka have been in disarray. Shoes have switched feet. Tables are upturned. If you'd watched Australia basically vomit their way through that 2016 series in Sri Lanka, this is basically the Upside Down.
Some of the hardship is of Sri Lanka's own making, and we will get to that. But some of it is just the kind of bad luck that hits touring teams that are already down. When it rains, it pours so hard, it floods the living room and ruins the furniture.
Sri Lanka desperately needed the likes of Dhananjaya de Silva in the side, for example. Aside from having hit a match-winning hundred in Sri Lanka's previous home series, he is an increasingly wily offspinner, and an excellent slip fielder, particularly to spin. Kamindu Mendis, his replacement, bowls with both arms, but is essentially a part-timer in both his finger-spin disciplines. He didn't bowl an over on day one, which considering he has only 19 first-class wickets, is not particularly surprising.
And yet the ease with which Australia have overturned the narrative from 2016 has also been staggering. "Bat big in the first innings, and let the spinners loose" has been Sri Lanka's go-to Test strategy at home for decades. In this match, Australia are in the process of batting big, and have the best spinner in the series in their dressing room. Mitchell Swepson is being guided through a series by a senior spinner. Part-timer Travis Head wreaked havoc in the second innings of the first match. All these are the kinds of tropes and hijinx you expect from a home side thoroughly at ease in their environment.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have seemed confused. Should we sweep? Should we not sweep? Head coach Chris Silverwood says one thing. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne another.
Australia's bowling was always shaping up to be excellent, but it is with the bat with which they have truly surprised, making a turning Galle pitch that terrified them last time, seem like a jacuzzi in which to settle and soak.
Where it's the visiting team that should by rights be scrambling for batting theories in conditions they do not fancy, Smith and Labuschagne charted their own confident courses through much of their 134-run stand. Smith favoured leaping forward to get to the pitch of the ball, hitting early boundaries to create single opportunities for himself. Labuschagne swept liberally, and maintained a much higher tempo through his century than Smith.
Although much has been made of Labuschagne's mimicry of Smith, these were substantially different innings - two batters, sticking to their own strengths, feeding off each other at times, but never treading on one another's toes. Perhaps it is in his negotiating of spin that Labuschagne diverges most markedly from the batter on which he once modeled his game.
Like home-side batters who possess the nimbleness to adapt to varying conditions even at the same venue, both Australia's No. 3 and 4 recognised this was a much better batting surface than the dust carnival the last Test had been played on. Each of them was secure in defence.
"Last week's game, I think the forward defence was the shot we talked about as being the toughest on that wicket," Labuschagne said at the end of the day. "You felt like every time you were defending, one was going to explode or beat your outside edge or take your outside edge.
"That was the one shot you could play today and you could trust a little bit more. You were just able to build an innings more regularly. Last week you had to be proactive, especially at the start of your innings, to get yourself in the game, put some pressure on the bowlers to get those freebies."
While Australia's batters play and talk as if they were made out of Galle clay, Sri Lanka are rifling through spinners, desperately seeking a match-winner. Only one of their leading spinners is out through Covid (Jayawickrama), but in this match, they are fielding a spin attack comprised of a bowler playing his eighth Test, and two debutants. For Maheesh Theekshana, this is his first Test ever, and his fourth first-class match, the three previous having come in 2018.
Theirs is not a desperate match situation yet, but it is nevertheless a difficult road back into the game. Australia, who have resoundingly won each of the Test-match days in this series, are poised to pounce again.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf