First Test, Sri Lanka v Australia: Mendis Masterclass

First Test, Pallekele.

Sri Lanka 117 & 353 d Australia 203 & 161.

Sri Lanka won by 106 runs.


I could not help but feel a sense of relief when Rangana Herath castled Steve O’Keefe to seal an important victory for this re-building Sri Lankan test team. For had Australia hung on, had the failing light or unsettled weather saved their blushes, one feels that a great injustice would have befallen the Sri Lankans. As it transpired, the cricketing gods too had decided that Australia was undeserving of being thrown a meteorological lifeline, allowing Herath and his younger counterparts to duly complete a richly deserved victory.

Despite an underwhelming first innings, Sri Lanka fought their way back into the match on the back of Kusal Mendis’ epic second innings 176; this was a superlative knock which will rightly be hailed as one of the greatest innings in his country’s history. On a decent test wicket, which held up well throughout the match, Australia had no answers to the patience and attractive stroke-play of the 21 year-old. Consider this: when Mendis strode to the crease, his team was reeling at 2/6 with another 80 runs required just to make Australia bat again; a day later, when Mitchell Starc finally removed him, Mendis had steered Sri Lanka was a relatively comfortable 7/290 – a lead of 203. The game had been wrenched away from Australia.

On the first day, Josh Hazlewood (and later, Nathan Lyon) bowled superbly to rout the hosts for a disappointing 117. Hazlewood in particular was impressively full, straight and accurate. At stumps, Australia was 2/66 and surely eyeing the opportunity to build a big first innings lead and really put Sri Lanka to the sword. But it was by failing to assert their authority on the second day that Australia lost control of the match. The tourists lost their remaining eight wickets for 137 runs and in the process gave Sri Lanka an even break. Alas, Smith’s brain fade on the second morning, when he needlessly danced down the wicket to Herath, was the story of the innings writ large.

In the wake of the Mendis masterclass, Australia was left to chase an improbable target of 268 for victory. The underdone David Warner was again bowled playing across the line, and then a strangely out-of-sorts Usman Khawaja (18) was the first in a long line of lbws. Joe Burns (29) was stoic, but looks uncomfortable on a turning deck and has the peculiar habit of leaving a gap between bat and pad through which the groundsman could drive the heavy roller. Not ideal in any conditions.

At stumps on the fourth evening, Australia was 3/83 and not without hope. But when Adam Voges (12) was dismissed spooning a catch straight back to Herath, the gig was almost up. Although his first innings 47 was solid, Voges looked scratchy; I am an admirer of what he has achieved since entering the test arena, but at his age the bell tolls more loudly than for others when form disappears. The skipper Smith battled furiously, but it was if he was raging against the dying of the light. Mitch Marsh contributed 25 – another innings that was not a failure, but again just not good enough for a player batting at number 6 for Australia. For just how much longer does the Mitch Marsh experiment continue? After 16 Tests, he is averaging 23.47 with the bat and 34.46 with the ball. History is littered with players holding figures better than that who had their careers extinguished.

Much has been made of the “defiant” ninth-wicket stand: Peter Nevill and O’Keefe batted for almost 30 overs and scored four runs. The latter had the excuse that his torn hammy had rendered him lame, which will probably spell the end of his Test career, but what was the keeper doing? My advice to him is that, in batting at number 7, he does have a level of responsibility to contribute to the scoreboard.

Despite the annoyance of a Caribbean tri-series in the lead-up to this series, it was apparent that more consideration had been given to the Australians’ preparation. Players such as Nevill and Burns were sent to India for a “mini pre-season” to acclimatise to sub-continental conditions. A tour party intra-club scratch match was played on arrival in Sri Lanka, as well as a first-class warm-up match. As such, there can be no excuses for Australia. Even for Warner, about whom we were relentlessly informed his enforced break would have him fresh and hungry for runs. It was a dismal performance, particularly from the batsmen, which laid bare all of their weaknesses against spin in sub-continental conditions. Apart from the unfortunate O’Keefe, there will unlikely be changes for the next Test, but performances across the board would want to improve significantly. One would hope that a number of players are on notice.

But this is Sri Lanka’s moment, and all credit to them. Teams made of less sterner stuff could well have folded in the face of their first-innings deficit, but they fought on gamely. In the old pro Herath they have a spinner for the ages, and in the debutant left-arm Chinaman “mystery spinner” Lakshan Sandakan they may just have found another for the future.

Test cricket needs the smaller nations to be stronger. Hopefully, this is the first step in that direction.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Smokie, what was your take on Lyon? I thought 1-90 at 4 an over for most of the second dig was a significant reason we lost? ok he might have been better bowling in tandem, but surely as the senior spinner this was his moment. and he didn’t really look likely.

    the Australian batting was abysmal most of the game. i sense they don’t care because they think we’re not watching.
    Mitch Marsh. a quality 4th seamer like Watto. but nowhere near as good with the bat. I think he’s a project player for a well-balanced, successful team. this is not that team.

    and ffs pick a leggie!

  2. Cranky,
    re Lyon: he continually falls into the trap of bowling too straight (middle, middle and leg) which he again did in the second dig. Easy pickings for the Lankans, I’m afraid. He is too experienced to be doing this, surely? I like him, and he has done well to get to 200 wickets, but he never looks likely to run through a batting line-up, even on day 5 of a Test.
    With all the dollars thrown at them in preparation/training/ sports science etc etc, the batting was nothing short of a disgrace. Let it be known that we are watching – very closely, in fact.
    Re M Marsh: my question is how long does he get to cement his spot? 20 Tests, 30 Tests?
    Re a leggie: this tour was a golden opportunity to blood a Zampa (remember SK Warne in Sri Lanka?). Much is made of Zampa’s poor first class record, but why is that so different from Henriques and the Marsh brothers?

  3. Smokie very good summary a bitterly disapomting display by the aussies where the game was lost on the second day several features the idiotic and arrogant selection of a underdone,Warner if he couldn’t play in the warm up game he there for should have been ineligible to be picked for the test match.
    Spot on re Mitch Marsh need far more from a number six and poor and bewildering captaincy by Smith re Marsh not bowling far earlier and Lyon that is his major weakness he is the support bowler for 3 quick taking vital wickets but to often failing as the main banana( only really delivering against,India in Adelaide
    Disagree re Nevill not scoring at that stage draw was the desired result and does not happen enough with teams desperately trying to hang on and yes I would prefer a leggie a certain,SK Warne 1st class figures weren’t exactly banging the door down when he delivered in Sri Lanka originally

  4. One does wonder about the test rankings. Australia number1 ? This is a misnomer. We can’t wind in the sub continent, not won in the UK since 2001.

    One does wonder where test Cricket is at. Falling crowds, the schism in the Windies playing , ranks, the overwhelming growth and success of 20 over cricket; can it last ?

    We live in interesting times.


  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Totally concur with your observations Smokie.
    Smith’s first innings dismissal was just horrible, especially from a captain, and proved to be a huge turning point in the match. Agree with Rulebook, Warner shouldn’t have played, especially given the lead in all other batsmen in the squad had.
    But full credit to Sri Lanka. Mendis was superb and has a bright future, much needed in a team decimated by the retirements of Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dilshan & Samarawera. Herath, as usual, was excellent. Great career. Looks older than his listed age of 38 though?? Liked Sandakan. Erratic at times, brilliant googly and spins his stock ball sharply which makes him instantly more dangerous than Brad Hogg was at Test level.
    Disappointed with the loss, but the Sri Lankan win was ‘good for cricket’!

  6. Smoke – a wonderful, insightful piece of cricket writing.
    And the comments all add thought and colour, too.
    Congratulations all.
    Love it.
    Well done, Sri Lanka.

    It’s a 3 Test series (I mistakenly mentioned earlier that it was 2 Tests).
    Next one starts later this week.

  7. Happily for us Knackers, a certain PJ Flynn will be in Galle for the first 4 days.
    Let’s hope he finds time to provide us with a report or two.

  8. How is he landing his leggies?

  9. yes we learn so little from history. won’t blood a bolter like Zampa (depsite Warne’s start). but won’t blood someone like Ahmed who takes 50 wickets in the Shield

    but we will blood Lyon who was a groundsman at the time, doing his best bowling in the nets

    answer: it’s ideological.

    Rod Marsh is the D HArdwick of cricket. “I don’t have any answers” – we can’t play spin in the subcontinent, pace and swing in England and New Zealand. but jeez we are good in Brisbane.

    time for new blood everywhere

    or Watto back as captain.

    I am going to form the ALP – Australian Legspinners’ Party. who’s in?

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Peter, I’d be happy to join that ALP. But would my background as an off-spinner preclude my membership??

  11. nah. i never bowled a leggie in my life.

    may the Patron Saint of John Watkins look favourably down upon us

  12. Steve Fahey says

    Great report Smokie, well summed up on a disappointing but not surprising loss.

    Thought you were a bit harsh on Nevill -trying to save a game with a bloke with a bung hamstring at the other end, he did what was needed, which was to survive.

  13. Peter Warrington says

    I think the theory is that letting bowlers have full overs at the one batsmen gives them too big an advantage, so you should walk the singles If they come. Also allows the batsmen to take a mental break.

    Having said that, they done real good with the stonewall.

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