Sri Lanka Celebrates as Australia Wobbles Again

1st ODI- Australia v Sri Lanka- MCG 3rd November 2010

It’s usually unwise to rush to judgement on the basis of a single one-day match, but last night’s astonishing Sri Lankan comeback would have done nothing to allay the anxieties of Australian supporters contemplating the summer ahead.

This midweek fixture was ludicrous in design, especially given many Melbournians had just enjoyed a Spring Carnival four day weekend. The sparse (for Melbourne) crowd of mainly Sri Lankan supporters appeared headed for a lacklustre spectacle when the visitors collapsed to 8-107, in response to Australia’s workmanlike 8-239. The largely forgettable opening to the international summer seemed about to continue.

What then transpired served as a classic reminder that all things are possible in a game of cricket when two batsmen get their eyes in and their tails up. As Angelo Matthews and Lasith Malinga rollicked their way to a 132 run 9th wicket stand, they not only stole the game, but reinforced Australia’s increasing inability to clinch a seemingly done deal.

Batting initially like men determined to enjoy it while it lasted, Matthews and Malinga, who had a previous best score of 16, were able to establish themselves as the Aussie attack lost focus and intent with the finish line in sight. Johnson and Siddle, in particular, were yet again guilty of wayward control, as easy runs were allowed, enabling the partnership to blossom. With the match tightening, and unthinkable defeat suddenly looming, neither stand-in captain Clarke nor his bowlers could produce any answers.

The alarming air of inevitability about Australia’s demise was only interrupted by Malinga’s suicidal attempt at a run with the scores tied. However, this merely allowed Muttiah Muralitharan one final moment of celebration on a ground that has treated him shabbily over many years.

None of this Australian angst seemed likely as Xavier Doherty enjoyed a dream international debut. At one stage possessing the figures of 4-9, Doherty was all set to be the headline story as he benefitted from some reckless Sri Lankan batting. But he too was to suffer at the hands of the tail end heroes, eventually conceding 46 runs for no further wickets.

Even more worrying than another Australian capitulation was evidence that some in the camp were prepared to leak against Clarke after the shock loss, indicating dressing room division just as a crucial Ashes series beckons. This is unfair, as Ricky Ponting has had no more luck clinching victory in similar recent situations.

Though Clarke found no magic when it was required, he did ring the bowling changes as the situation deteriorated. A fielding captain is usually only as good as his bowlers make him appear. Once again, the more experienced Aussie quicks raised questions over their temperament and cricket smarts when it counts.

Rather than white-anting the supposed heir apparent, Australian energies would be better spent taking honest stock of team shortcomings. The current Australian hierarchy seem dedicated to the notion that professional process and grim determination will override other failings. This ties in with captain Ponting’s already obvious preference for familiar, agreeable faces to lead into battle. This has produced a situation where much time has been spent justifying incumbents, whilst the short form games have seen many alternatives tried, but few settled on.

The current Australian side lacks flair, and is usually led without adventure. Ponting is a gritty, unyielding competitor, but his record suggests the sides he leads now only triumph when they can break the opposition’s will. When opponents stand their ground, Australia hopes for a mistake, rather than forcing the issue. This approach has seen advantage slip away at Cardiff, Mohali, and now the MCG, to name but the most recent. Opposing teams will be taking note for future encounters. Michael Clarke did not invent this situation last night.

Even the Australian batting effort seemed to accentuate the problem. 239 is not a bad total for an early season MCG encounter, but it was the accumulation of toil, rather than any inspiration. Only Haddin showed any sparkle with some early hitting. Clarke promised briefly, before again departing to a loose shot.

It was left to Hussey to literally grind a total out. Mr Cricket has long been a consummate professional, and he’s clinging to an international career that he had to wait for a long time to enjoy. You would expect no less of him. Without his steady, unbeaten 71, the Australian effort may well have floundered. But one boundary in 91 deliveries and hardly a shot that really seemed middled isn’t exactly world beating stuff. Past his prime, and grimly hanging on, he personifies  much of the Australian team.

It should be noted that youth dominated the bowling brigades last night. 21 year old Thisara Perera claimed 5-46 for the visitors, whilst Doherty and Hastings also showed that there is life beyond the tried and tested, if you’re prepared to chance it. It might be time to pay more respect to Shield performance.

Sri Lanka have often been underestimated, and sometimes insulted, when touring Australia. In our prime, we were inclined to condescension. But they now sit above us in the test rankings. They will have enjoyed last night, as they should.

Australia needs to break their losing streak. It can become a habit every bit as much as winning. The issue is in their general method, not whether Clarke is the right sort of bloke to succeed Ponting. Given their current woes, they don’t need additional distraction.

Meanwhile, England go about their preparations, focused on Brisbane.

Sri Lanka 9-243 (Matthews 77*, Malinga 56, Sangakkara 49, Doherty 4-46) def Australia 8-239 (Hussey 71, Haddin 49, Perera 5-46)

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Xavier Doherty for Prime Minister.

    Good report JB.

  2. John Butler says

    Thanks Josh

    Xavier for PM? I think he has higher ambitions.

    See you next Thursday I presume?

  3. I’ll be there in my Argentina North jumper :)

  4. Not enough Tasmanians in the side. That’s the problem.

  5. John Butler says

    There’s a Tasmanian leading the whole shebang Phantom.

    At least he still claims residency (I think). Though his mail is care of Sydney.

    Rehearses his lines with Lawsy I believe.

    And don’t you still claim Watto?

  6. Worth bringing Paine and Hilfy back in then?

  7. JB
    You have raised some very interesting points.
    And in that vein, I would also like to raise some of my own:
    The ODI team:
    1. Ponting should retire from ODI’s (as he already has doe from 20/20), and concentrate on preserving himself for Test match cricket, where he can best serve his country;
    2. The batting line-up: settle on a line-up and stick with it for a period. For example, what is Shaun Marsh doing at 6…he is a career opener!
    3. Bowling: Haddin opening means there is room for an extra all-rounder. But not at the expense of a bowler. There were only 3 genuine bowlers in Australia’s line-up last night, one too few in my opinion.
    4. Keeping the faith: some players get looked after, but others…? An example of this is the versatile James Hopes. He has been an excellent ODI performer for the Aussies over the past couple of years, but has now seemingly been retired by the selectors.
    5. Consistency of selection: it looks as if the ODIs are now a major vehickle for blooding talent. Australia has fielded 23 players (2 teams plus 1!) this calendar year. That’s too many in only 25 games.
    The 20/20 team:
    My only comment is that Michael Clarke should not be in this team, let alone be its captain. His decision to promote himself to open the innings in Perth at the expense of a successful opening combination was one of the most selfish acts I have witnessed for a long time. It was based purely on his need for runs to maintain his position, and his inability to push the scoring along in the middle-order.
    Darren D.

  8. John Butler says

    Adam, Hilfy will be vital when the tests start. I presume they’re resting him from the short stuff.

    I think Paine should play in Brisbane. He’s the future. Haddin is good in the short form, but plays too many dumb shots in tests.

    Smokie, much food for thought there. I suppose the underlying theme is lack of a discernible plan in selection. Having originally tried to play the same team in all formats, it’s now a free-for-all in the short formats. Some of this has to do with bowler injury and workload, but mostly it seems without purpose.

    Then you look at the test team, which seems to be going nowhere, and no one can get dropped (except the occasional newcomer, who seems to go straight out when the guy he replaced is fit).

    Re Clarke, he was anointed heir far too early. In tests, he’s been one of the better batsmen in the last couple of years. But they made him captain in the T20 stuff (because Ponting retired from it), which seems his worst format. I agree that Punter should save himself for tests, but he probably wants to play in the World Cup.

    I find it little coincidence that as the heat turns up on Ponting, the leaks start about Clarke. Self protection seems one of the stronger impulses in the current dressing room. Talk of North as a captaincy option is ludicrous. Unless he performs MUCH better, he should be dropped.

  9. Peter Flynn says

    A Hilditch and T Nielsen are ruining Australian cricket.

  10. Andrew Fithall says

    We used to laugh at the Poms because they selected their captain first and then named the team. Australia traditionally has selected the captain from the team. We have now take the Pom’s approach in T20 – I agree with the above comments that M Clarke should not be in the team. And I read yesterday that M North is mooted as potential Test Captain. Another who should not even be in the team.

  11. David Goodwin says

    Just caught up with this piece JB. Also last week found your earlier item on the test team difficulties. It’s disturbing the extent to which we are on the same wavelength – Almanac groupthink?? Or maybe the problems are just bleeding obvious. At least we have it on record on this website that we’ve been concerned about these developing problems for 18 months. Now the whole of Australia is onto it. The solutions won’t arrive til the end of the summer when Hilditch is out of the way and Greg Chappell wields full influence. Unfortunately I suspect we will have lost an Ashes series by then, and the World Cup will be announced as Ricky’s last hurrah. Ricky’s heart has gone right out of the caper, and he’s playing for the historical record at both Test and one day level (wants a secure place in the pantheon, but he should be more secure than he seems in the knowledge he has such a place). I still reckon Katich is the interim skipper solution at Test level (for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka next year), provided he gets runs this summer. Then a youngster like Paine or Ferguson must emerge with the leadership skills. If the powers that be allow Ricky to set for going to England again in 2013, that will just be sheer lunacy – it’s the job of administrators to make that early call on his behalf so he can retire after the World Cup. Clarke can be allowed to take over the 50 over captaincy (but not the test team) – if that matters at all, given the state of the format. White appeals as the short term T20 captain. Within the 18 month transition period we need to get to the position of a single captain for all formats – Paine?? Dave G

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