December 15 2019
Sri Lankans face do-or-die battle
16 February 2012

The Sri Lankans have fought hard but seem to have left an essential quality back home — endgame skills.

Indeed, Mahela Jayawardene's men have not been able to close out games. Sri Lanka could have won all its three matches so far in the Commonwealth Bank ODI series but the side failed to win the key moments at the crunch.

Now, the Sri Lankans appear vulnerable having lost two games while managing a tie in another. The side has just two points and desperately requires a victory over Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground here on Friday.

Australia, with nine points from three matches, will go past India's 10 points from four matches if it beats Sri Lanka here.

In a rather bizarre turn of events, Ricky Ponting will lead Australia for the first time after the last World Cup.

Skipper Michael Clarke is out of the game with a hamstring injury and the selectors, overlooking the claims of vice-captain David Warner, turned to Ponting.

The question is if John Inverarity and his selection panel had named someone as Clarke's deputy, then why is he not captaining the side in the captain's absence. The celebrated Steve Waugh was right when he questioned the appointment of Ponting.

The feeling here is that the selectors jumped the gun by promoting Warner as the vice-captain. The explosive left-hander lacks experience and his average in ODIs is a modest 20.61 from 13 games. And once Clarke ran into fitness concerns, the wise men have been caught red-faced.

The message that comes out is clear — Warner does not quite have the stature presently to lead this Australian side.

This has been a largely successful summer for Australia but the selection panel has come under the scanner.

Debating point

The handling of senior wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin — left out of the Twenty20 and ODI squads so far — has become a debating point. It's not good for the team's morale when a popular cricketer such as Shane Watson, himself recovering from a calf injury, is openly critical of the manner Haddin has been treated.

Coming to the match, Clarke's absence could result in Michael Hussey taking his spot in the middle-order. The Husseys — David Hussey has been in rousing form — will be critical to Australia's plans against the Sri Lankan spinners. The fleet-footed Peter Forrest — so impressive on debut at Adelaide — too could relish the challenge.

And Brett Lee, if he passes the fitness test for a toe injury, could pip swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus for a spot in the eleven. Can Clint McKay recover from the psychological scars of the last-over nightmare at Adelaide?

It remains to be seen if Ponting opens the batting again — the ploy lacked logic — or whether wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade is pushed to the top of the order.

The Sri Lankans will take some heart from the fact that the SCG has been a happy hunting ground for the side in the ODIs. The Lankans have won five of their last seven ODIs here and three of the victories have been achieved against Australia. The weather — rain has been forecast — though could alter the conditions and upset Sri Lanka's plans.

The side seeks big runs from its top three batsmen — Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. All three have been unable, so far, to kick on after a start.

ODI landmark

Sangakkara is on the brink of a major ODI landmark. The classy left-hander is just 11 short of 10,000 runs in ODIs. Only the mercurial Sanath Jayasuriya and the gifted Jayawardene have achieved the feat for Sri Lanka and Sangakkara is poised to join them.

The pitch here has largely favoured the batsmen in the ODIs. The spinners, however, could play a crucial role as the match progresses.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath bowled skilfully against India in Adelaide. He does add another dimension to the attack with his variations in trajectory, away spin and in-drift. Much of Sri Lanka's fortunes could hinge on the pace-spin combination of Lasith Malinga and Herath.

The talented Dinesh Chandimal continues to make headway with the bat while the versatile Angelo Mathews remains a game-changer.

This could be a very interesting game at the SCG. The ‘Punter' would hate to lose it. For the Sri Lankans, the match could be a lifeline.

The teams (from):

Australia: R. Ponting (captain), D. Warner, M. Wade, M. Hussey, D. Hussey, P. Forrest, D. Christian, M. Marsh, B. Lee, C. McKay, M. Starc, B. Hilfenhaus and D. Xoherty

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene (captain), T. Dilshan, U. Tharanga, K. Sangakkara, D. Chandimal, A. Mathews, T. Perera, N. Kulasekara, L. Malinga, R. Herath, S. Senanayake, C. Welegedara, D. Prasad, L. Thirumanne and F. Maharoof.

Play starts at 8.50 a.m. IST.



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