Australian cricket team to face spin in first Test in Galle



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What awaits in Sri Lanka instead, is a scenario whereby mere occupation may not always be enough. Calculated risks to go on the attack, spreading the fields and breaking up the lines and lengths of the spinners, will be vital.

Smith, who led Australia to Sri Lanka and a 3-0 hiding courtesy of Herath six years ago, has acknowledged the different scale of the task. Similarly, the selectors have shown that a balance between defence and attack – with both bat and ball – is in their thinking.

That’s why Glenn Maxwell has been chosen as injury cover for Travis Head despite not playing a first-class match since COVID-19 began. Sri Lanka would not have feared a Nic Maddinson, Henry Hunt or Matt Renshaw, but they will be kept awake by the thought of confronting Maxwell.

In 2011, Australia’s victory was underpinned by two superlative innings from Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke. Hussey swept, cut and drove with precision on the opening day of the series; Clarke used the depth of the crease with twinkling feet to ensure Sri Lanka were set an unreachable target.

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Conditional concerns are also why the finger spin of Matt Kuhnemann and Jon Holland has edged ahead of Mitchell Swepson in calculations for Lyon’s spin partner. Without a fit Ashton Agar, accuracy and consistency, rather than sheer revolutions on the ball, is valued most highly. Swepson, used in Pakistan to try to extract life out of dead surfaces, may not be bowling consistently enough to clamp Sri Lankan scoring.

Playing Holland, who was flown out of a Melbourne winter without too much advance warning, would be a risk. In 2016, he was similarly drafted when Steve O’Keefe went down injured in Kandy, and struggled to drop the ball onto a challenging length.

Kuhnemann has at least taken part in the white-ball matches, after also bowling effectively for Australia A. Either way, a demotion for Swepson would appear to be likely.

Then again, Galle’s vagaries have been known to aid Australian pace in the past. Ryan Harris and Shane Watson bowled with distinction 11 years ago, attacking the stumps, with the occasional bouncer, making the most of reverse swing and variable bounce.

Mitchell Starc, too, was close to unplayable in 2016 – the only trouble being that Australia’s batting line-up was almost entirely without system and method. One of those haunted runmakers was Usman Khawaja, alongside Lyon the only member of the current team to have played in each of the past two Galle Tests.

Where Pakistan saw Khawaja accumulate runs with something like impunity, Sri Lanka will test his ability to adapt. More than anyone else, Khawaja knows the truth of succeeding in this part of the world – you can no more use one method to succeed in Asia than you can play the same way in Sydney as you do in Perth.

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