Wicket: Australia gain upper hand
It didn’t take long for Hazlewood to strike early as he prised out Kusal Mendis with a nip-backer. Mendis closed the bat face too early and was struck plumb in front. Australia’s opening duo has been impressive up front. If Starc has mainly got the ball to swerve in and away from the batsmen, then Hazlewood has found movement off the seam.
Wicket: Starc dents Sri Lanka
Starc’s uncanny ability to extract movement off the seam bore fruit, as he sent Karunaratne back to the hut. It nipped back in sharply and the left-hander was caught in the crease. As soon as Karunaratne was rapped on the pads, the tall pacer dished out a loud appeal for LBW and the umpire answered it in the affirmative.
However, Karunaratne took a review, but it was crystal clear that he was struck below the knee-roll and the Hawk-Eye confirmed that the ball would crash into the leg-stump. As a result, the appeal was upheld, with Karunaratne taking the walk back to the pavilion.
Update: Starc in fine fettle
Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva are the openers for Sri Lanka. Mitchell Starc’s waspish pace, copious swing augmented by the left-armer’s angle troubled the opening duo. In fact, it is a good sign for the visitors that the tall pacer generated movement in the first over. At the other end of spectrum, Josh Hazlewood bowled with good disciplines.
Toss: Sri Lanka opt to bat
On a pleasant day at the Pallekele International Stadium, Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat. Dhananjaya de Silva and Lakshan Sandakan have been picked and will make their Test debuts. On the other hand, Steve O’Keefe has been selected as the second spinner for the visitors. The track is expected to be batting-friendly before it starts to assist the spinners later on in the match.
Day 1 – Build Up: Stumbling Sri Lanka look for revival
The picturesque Pallekele International Stadium, which is just 15 kms away from the city of Kandy, will host the first Test of the eagerly awaited series between Sri Lanka and Australia. The quaint charms of watching a game of cricket in the backdrop of clouded mountains and the thick green foliage, has certainly captured the imagination of the paying public and players alike.
Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankan skipper, for one would hope that the scenically located ground would lift the spirits of the hosts. The home team hasn’t yet won a Test match this year, and were recently thrashed by England in all three formats of the game. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka are battling with form and injuries, evidenced by the four uncapped players that they have picked in the 15-member squad.
Fast bowlers – Dhammika Prasad and Dushmantha Chameera – haven’t yet recovered from their respective injuries. Suanga Lakmal is also struggling with a hamstring problem. Vishwa Fernando, known for generating waspish pace, is expected to make his debut. The left-arm pacer from Colombo nipped out 40 wickets at 21.97 in Sri Lanka’s premier first-class competition in 2014-15. He also averaged a creditable 28.08 in domestic cricket last season.
With the duo of Prasad and Chameera missing from the action, Nuwan Pradeep will lead the pace attack. Rangana Herath will be keen to make his presence felt on a ground, where he has been successful. The diminutive left-arm spinner has snared 11 scalps at 17.54 in Pallekele. Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal will have the burden of shoring up a rather inexperienced batting line-up.
The visitors don’t have too many concerns. The Steve Smith-led Australian side that received the ICC Test Championship mace for finishing as the top-ranked Test nation on Monday (July 25), will start as favourites. David Warner, Smith and Adam Voges form the core of the batting line-up. Steve O’Keefe is set to partner Nathan Lyon as the second spinner. Mitchell Starc, the left-arm pacer, has touched compelling heights in the shorter formats, but hasn’t yet made a huge impact in Tests. He will be looking forward to put the record straight in the series.
Just before the start of the first Test, Muttiah Muralitharan, Australia’s spin consultant, and Charith Senanayake, the Sri Lankan team manager, were reportedly involved in a verbal altercation and that will add a bit of spice to the series There is a 60% chance of Day 1 being affected by rain, but hopefully, we will have a full day’s play.