Knowing what’s coming is one thing, playing it is another. There were a few smiles from David Warner as he watched the deliveries pass him in the 99 he did in Colombo on Tuesday, but Australia’s collapse that decided the ODI series highlighted what they will have to fight for the rest of the tour. .
Warner spoke of a good game afterwards despite losing the series, touting the positives of Australia being challenged by Sri Lanka’s phalanx of spinners, who netted 43 overs in game four before the two tests in Galle which will start next week.
“We always expected the wickets to turn, so it’s fantastic preparation for us,” he said. “Actually we like the fact that they play back-to-back wickets…that’s what we want, we can’t get that practice in the net – the nets are green.
“For us it’s great training in the middle with those dust bowls. It’s going to be exciting for the Test matches in Galle because we know what we’re going to get there. It’s an extreme rotation; you don’t see generally not this type of counters.
“You only see them here. India is completely different…they are actually good counters [in India]. And they turn later on the third or fourth day [of Tests].”
Warner was part of the Australian squad that lost Tests 3-0 in the 2016 tour to Sri Lanka. He made 163 runs at 27.16 in a series where only Steven Smith (average of 41.16) and Shaun Marsh (average of 76.50 from a test) broke the 30 mark as the line- up was regaled by Rangana Herath, who claimed 28 wickets at 12.75. .
There remains one ODI, but thoughts turn to the two tests which start next Wednesday. Ahead of the tour, Marnus Labuschange said he saw how Joe Root found success in Sri Lanka last year when he plundered 426 runs in the two-game series. Usman Khawaja, who transformed his game against the spin after struggling earlier in his career, becomes a vital player after his prolific returns to Pakistan, but it’s likely to be a steep learning curve for Cameron Green, Alex Carey and even Labuschagne .
Mitchell Marsh, another player who was on the 2016 tour and matched Warner’s run count in all three matches, believes Australia’s recent T20 World Cup success and Test series victory in Pakistan are proof of how batters have improved against rotations.
“It’s probably a little hard to say that now that we’re down 3-1 in this series, but I think if you look at all of our players, especially on the white ball team, we’ve all won a lot. experience over the last two years and I’ve improved the spin game tremendously,” Marsh said. “He came out in the World Cup, the way we all played, and the Test team has very good spin players. Going forward, the Test series is going to be great. We’re obviously going to have Bunsen burners, so it’ll be great to watch.”
The 1-0 Test series win in Pakistan earlier this year was a perfect example of overcoming conditions that required play to be deep on flat wickets. Australia continued to use the term that it was a 15 day test and they won the last one. Reverse swing has become as much of a deciding factor as spin. However, Galle is likely to be different based on recent history. The game could well go a lot faster.
However, if Australia want a glimpse of what might host them, when Sri Lanka last played in Galle is probably a better guide. In two matches against West Indies at the end of last year, Embuldeniya, Mendis and Jayawickrama shared 38 wickets. The fast bowlers sent just 27 overs in the two games. It is believed, however, that under new head coach Chris Silverwood that pace may not be as forgotten.
It will be interesting to know if any of the spinners who have troubled Australia in the ODIs are called up. Among the frontliners, only Wanindu Hasaranga has played Tests and he averages 100.75 in four matches. Along with Jeffrey Vandersay and Maheesh Theekshana, they are considered white ball specialists. Embuldeniya, with 71 wickets in 16 Tests, showed glimpses of Herath’s role execution but lacked the same consistency. It cannot be ruled out that 19-year-old Dunith Wellalage will get a quick promotion.
Regardless of selection, anyone who lines up for Sri Lanka, Australia knows the challenge that is likely to come their way. That doesn’t mean it will be easier. Galle may prove to be the litmus test of how far their spin game has come since 2016.